ALAMOSA — With one abstention, the Rio Grande Roundtable this week voted to support the SolarReserve facility proposed in Saguache County.
The roundtable members represent varied water interests from agricultural to municipal in the Rio Grande Basin.
Roundtable member Cindy Medina abstained from the final vote after voicing concern the roundtable was stepping outside its mission by becoming involved in a political matter.
SolarReserve is seeking political clout with the state to persuade Xcel to contract for renewable energy power from SolarReserve.
“They are waiting for a power purchase agreement with Xcel,” Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson explained to the group. “Xcel indicated it will not be buying any additional solar power.”
Gibson added SolarReserve is trying to persuade the Public Utilities Commission and Xcel to reconsider that decision and purchase solar power from the plant SolarReserve plans to build in Saguache County.
The solar project is of particular interest to the water group, Gibson added, because with the property purchase SolarReserve is making in Saguache County, the company is going to take about 20 quarters of irrigated agricultural land out of production. Gibson said Agro Engineering has estimated that will amount to 6,000 acre feet of consumptive water use.
Since this solar facility would be located in the area of the Valley’s first groundwater management sub-district, reducing irrigated acres in that region would assist the sub-district with one of its goals to reduce the strain on the Valley’s aquifer.
“It would obviously help the growers in Sub-district 1,” Gibson said. “It would also help the overall state of the Valley.”
SolarReserve’s Adam Green asked the roundtable to write a letter to the governor in support of the project. Many governments and other groups such as the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee have done so, Gibson added.
“It has broad support across the Valley, a general consensus this will be good not only from a water standpoint but potential employment.”
Medina said historically the roundtable has written very few letters of support and has tried to stay away from politically charged issues. That is not what the group is designed for, she said.
Roundtable Vice-Chairman Rio de la Vista said the group’s purpose is also to support aquifer sustainability in the Valley, which this project will do. She said especially with the current “fracking” going on in the Valley in relationship to oil/gas drilling, she wanted to support solar as an alternative energy source.
Gibson said Saguache County has already permitted the project. He said the opposition to it, that he was aware of, revolved around the project’s magnitude and its potential impact on bird flyways.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Rick Basagoitia said potential problems for birds in connection with the SolarReserve project were the tall towers and mirrors. Other potential wildlife concerns are impacts to the large bat colony in the northern part of the Valley and the pronghorn habitat, especially since the pronghorn population in the Valley is not that large.
Gibson said the roundtable’s primary basis for support of SolarReserve would be the water savings to the aquifer. That was mentioned in the motion to support the project.
Medina abstained from the motion.