County commissioners approve solar facility

RBC | At a public hearing July 9, the Rio Blanco County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) granted approval to Piceance Creek Solar LLC for utility-scale solar powered generation of electricity. Piceance Creek Solar had applied for permits allowing development of a four megawatt solar electricity generating facility off County Road 83 in the southeast sector of the Piceance Basin on what was previously Shell Oil Company property. Cypress Creek Renewables will be the solar operators, having leased a base of 34 acres there from TC LandCo LLC, expecting to have installations on 28 acres.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the solar project permits. Commissioner Jeff Rector summed up the BOCC’s reaction in saying, “Congratulations. Excellent presentation. We are truly happy to see you here.”

TC LandCo LLC is a subsidiary of TerraCarta, the landowner entity which purchased all of Shell Oil Company’s western Colorado properties. According to TerraCarta President Patrick Conway of Chicago, the LLC is a real estate and energy leasing company focused on developing its assets and infrastructure in an environmentally conscious manner. “Therefore,” Conway said via email, “We are very excited about the current and possibly future projects with Cypress Creek Renewables.” Chuck Whiteman of Meeker, serves as the manager for the TC LandCo properties.

The annual expected power production from the facility, to be operational in early 2019, is 10.08 million kilowatt hours, enough to power 830 single family homes. White River Electric Association (WREA) will be the buyer of the electricity from the project.

California-based Cypress Creek Renewables (CCR) already has 294 utility-scale projects in 13 other states, producing more than 2.2. gigawatts of power in the U.S. This will be their first Colorado facility. Currently, CCR’s greatest production is from North Carolina where more than 1.5 gigawatts/year are being produced.

Michelle Zimmerman of Breckenridge, CCR’s primary Colorado representative, said, “We are thrilled to be working with both the WREA and Rio Blanco County, and look forward to future projects in the region.” Zimmerman was accompanied by CCR engineer Andrey Pihourov of Castle Rock, and project development intern Sarah Eberly.

Zimmerman told the commissioners, “Through helping Colorado meet its clean-energy goals, CCR is committed to creating a healthier environment for everyone.” Furthermore, she said, “CCR wishes to promote U.S. energy independence and energy security through affordable renewables production.”

Local benefits of solar generation are extensive, according to Zimmerman. In general, the facilities contain no fluids, no chemicals, no leaks, no noise, no lights, no traffic increases post construction, and no glare, she said.

The construction of the Piceance Creek solar generation system will include $5 million direct spending in the local economy, including parts, labor, goods, services, fuel, lodging, dining and other consumer activity. The construction phase, lasting three to four months at the front end, is expected to involve about 53 full-time equivalent employees, including three on-site electrical and civil engineers in-house, 15 to 20 construction workers, five fencing employees (the site will need to be surrounded by a seven foot chain-link fence), 10 to 15 general manual laborers, two water supply drivers, and locally rented equipment. All construction will be done during daylight hours.

CCR is committed to helping Coloradans meet the voter-approved clean energy promises established by the Renewable Energy Standard which requires cooperative utilities like WREA to obtain 20 percent of their power from renewables. The Piceance Creek LLC solar effort is projected to produce