The Wright’s Mesa community came together May 16 at Lone Cone Library with as many as 200 people in what became standing room only, and another 50 or more on Zoom attending remotely, to hear OneEnergy give a presentation on their proposed solar project.
OneEnergy, a Seattle-based company with an office in Denver, aims to put a 600-acre solar project for renewable energy on Lone Cone Road, and they already have a lease from the state land trust to start the process. They also have a lease from two private landowners, neither of whom anyone in Norwood knows and who apparently have ties to Seattle.
OneEnergy representatives at the Norwood meeting said they want the Lone Cone property because it’s flat, not protected by sage-grouse restrictions, and it’s close to Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s transmission line. They’re seeking a 30 to 40-year lease and are ready to put up an eight-foot exclusionary wildlife fence to protect the inverters, transformers and solar panels which rotate and stand anywhere from five to 12 feet high, depending on the sun’s angle.
OneEnergy representatives said Tri-State has been seeking renewables contracting and that Tri-State only contracts with big projects. They added a few full-time jobs would benefit Norwood, but 300 temporary local jobs in construction would be available, and they estimate $9 million going to public education.
The public meeting happened with 10 days notice, letting people know that OneEnergy would go before San Miguel County to file an application. Tri-State will not contract with OneEnergy before an application is approved. Multiple agencies will be asked to provide comments on the future application including Norwood Fire Protection District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and others. OneEnergy plans to address future comments to move forward.
If OneEnergy gets approval, construction will start in 2025, last 12 months with operation starting in 2026. Representatives said they already completed a survey of the wetlands last June and the site plan avoids those. They also said they’d restore vegetation in 30-40 years after the project is done.
Mayor Candy Meehan led the public comment and said 95 percent of Norwood is “diametrically opposed” to the solar project and the town doesn’t have the capacity to meet the needs of it.
“It doesn’t benefit us,” she said.
Others spoke about the traffic up Norwood Hill, the destruction of the views and impacts to water.
Michael Donnellon told the speakers to put it in Idarado and use the East End transmission line.
“You’re not in partnership with Snyder Ranches on this,” he said in response to OneEnergy listing Snyder Ranches as a partner on the proposed project in their promotional materials.
Rich Nuttal, who lives 200 feet above the property, is worried about the glare at his house, along with hydraulic leaks and ground contamination. He said it could affect the water in the Gurley Ditch. He told the speakers to put the solar installation on the Valley Floor in Telluride.
Todd Bittner, the school superintendent but who spoke as a landowner adjacent to the property, said something deceitful is going in. Besides being mad that OneEnergy used Snyder Ranches’ name in their brochure, he doesn’t believe Norwood Public Schools will benefit in any way from the solar project.
“It’s deceptive to say you’re here to help schools,” he said. Bittner also doesn’t want to deal with “animal mutilation” related to the new fence by his property.
“Giggling Goat Farm is not laughing. We are pissed,” he said.
Jenny Russell, an attorney who specializes in water law, questioned the water source for the project. Craig Grother is worried about wildlife habitat.
Nate Lamers asked about the existing ag lease already in place. If that doesn’t end until 2031, how can OneEnergy override that with the state land board?
Rick Hollinbeck said he encouraged the representatives to go west. He said there are other sites not protected by sage grouse. Andy Sherman questioned the life of solar panels, how long they last in what is supposed to be a more sustainable source of energy. Representatives agreed the panels won’t produce as much at the end of the lease. They will degrade over time.
Dave Alexander, on San Miguel Power Association’s (SMPA) board of directors, said the project is not good for the community. He said some small solar projects are okay, but this one doesn’t feed into SMPA; it feeds into Tri-State. He said there are better ways to do a solar project. He also said SMPA had not had any discussions with OneEnergy the week before the meeting. As a rancher and board member of Farmers Water Development Company, he’s worried about water quality.
McKay Belk wanted OneEnergy representatives to name the private landowners leasing to the project. Representatives said they are Jim Grady and Joe Torrigino. Belk questioned their addresses being in Seattle, like OneEnergy.
“Has anyone ever heard of Jim Grady?” he asked the crowd.
Sajun Folsum said the same Norwood people would show up to protest a coal mine on the Lone Cone Road.
“If you come in here and put in a project opposed by this many, something’s wrong,” he said. “We have a right to say what happens in and around our community and how it affects us."
Phil Robbins told them to put it on a Superfund site somewhere else in the Four Corners.
Terri Snyder Lamers is shocked anyone would drive up the Cone Road and think it’s a suitable location.
Tom Colander asked if the project was “all or nothing.” Representatives said in all “likeliness,” the project is all or nothing because of the cost of purchasing a transformer.
As of press time Tuesday, OneEnergy had not filed an application.
Mike Bordogna, county manager, said the county would vote on a moratorium for solar projects May 23.
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