solar array

The above photo shows the location and size of a solar array proposal that the San Miguel County Planning Commission will consider today (Wednesday). (Courtesy photo)

When the San Miguel County Planning Commission meets this morning (Wednesday), it will consider approving a special use permit that would allow the installation of a solar array off Last Dollar Road that would provide electricity to San Miguel Power Association (SMPA).

The project — submitted by Erdman Energy Enterprises, (EEE) owned by local Tim Erdman — is located on a 1.6-acre parcel of land 500 feet north of Telluride Regional Airport, and has generally been met with support, including a recommendation for conditional approval by San Miguel County planning staff. The solar array facility is slated to generate 366 kilowatts, 274kW of which would be sold to SMPA. The balance of the power will be used for a yet-to-be-built single family residence elsewhere on the 36-acre property.

The project has already been approved by Tri-State Generation and Transmission, having determined it will fall under Tri-State’s 5 percent cap rule that requires SMPA purchase 95 percent of its electricity from Tri-State. That will allow SMPA to purchase locally generated, renewable electricity from the array. If first the planning commission and then the Board of County Commissioners approve the project, Tri-State and SMPA will finalize a power purchase agreement. That agreement will then green light the option for SMPA members to subscribe to purchase the energy and, according to the planning staff’s memo to the commission, “to receive a virtually net metered offset to their bill.”

The array will be situated on the southernmost portion of the property on a south-facing slope and will consist of 16 rows of panels with 62 racks each.

Given the array’s proximity to the airport, Federal Aviation Administration approval was required before moving forward, which indicated the project would not interfere with air navigation.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) also reviewed the application and noted that the property is within elk and mule deer winter and summer range. CPW’s primary stated concern was that wildlife be prevented entry to the area and recommended “8-foot woven wire fencing, including gates, to exclude deer and elk.”

Public comments that have been submitted in advance of the meeting are mostly supportive of Erdman’s project.

“As a resident of the county, I believe creating solutions that lead to a more sustainable energy place for our entire region is absolutely necessary,” Hillside resident Marc Nager wrote.

Rita Robinson, a resident of Old Elam Ranch on Hastings Mesa, also expressed her support.

“As someone who developed a solar subdivision on Hastings Mesa (Old Elam Ranch), I am well aware of the balance between the need for alternative energy and the importance of aesthetics,” Robinson wrote.

She explained that her project made efforts to keep the array mostly hidden from the neighbors’ views and that she felt the Erdman project had adequately addressed those concerns.

Erdman plans to mitigate any visual concerns with “slow-growing” native trees on the south and southeast side of the solar array “to obscure visibility from passing vehicular traffic traveling on Last Dollar,” planning staff wrote in its memo.

But visual impacts are on a list of concerns submitted by Wilson Mesa residents, Charles and Jessie Price, who through their attorney Bo Nerlin, requested the application be denied based on “the incomplete nature of the application, the applicant’s failure to address the financial viability of the project, and the long term visual impact of the solar array.”

In its memo to the planning commission regarding the potential visual impacts of the array, staff writes, “ … it is acknowledged that the proposed installation is likely to have some impact on the visual quality of some specific properties and public use arenas. However, the proximity of this site to the existing Telluride Regional Airport mitigates some impacts.” Further, the memo offers staff’s opinion that “this installation will not be a highly reflective or an unsightly facility.”

The staff memo also declares the application is complete and consistent with the county’s scenic quality standards and the County Master Plan. Also of merit, “the proposal furthers utilization of alternative energy sources.”

County planning staff recommends approval with a number of conditions, including adherence to CPW’s fencing recommendation, a review by the county weed manager that the areas have been adequately revegetated, and that the solar panel frames and support structures be a “dark, anodized finish,” to mitigate reflection, among other conditions.

Planning commission members and staff will make a site visit at 8:50 a.m. and then begin the meeting at 10 a.m. The EEE application for a special use permit is the only item on their agenda. If the commission grants approval, the application will next go before the county commissioners. The meeting takes place in the Miramonte Building, second floor meeting room, at 333 West Colorado Ave.