Bidders have high praise for solar site

Builders say tailings pile a good place to put array

A photovoltaic solar system would fit nicely at the site in Bodo Canyon where 2.5 million cubic yards of radioactive mill tailings are buried, a potential bidder on the project said this week.

“It’s a good site,” Jordan House, principal and CEO of Durango-based Four Corners Solar, said Thursday. “There no shading, it’s level, well-drained and near the La Plata Electric Association substation.”

The $500,000 that LPEA estimates it would cost to modify its Bodo Park substation and run a line to the photovoltaic site is reasonable for a project of its size, House said.

Four Corners Solar is one of 16 potential bidders who Tuesday toured the site where the U.S. Department of Energy wants someone to install photovoltaic collectors to produce up to 4.5 megawatts of power. The contract would be for 20 years.

Participation in an informational meeting and the tour Tuesday weren’t required to bid on the project. Bidding is open to all comers until Jan. 6.

“This is our first project of this kind,” Laura Kilpatrick, senior realty officer in the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management, said Thursday. “We manage 87 sites in all, but each one is different. We could evaluate other sites later.”

No DOE money – grants, loans or participation – will be involved in the Bodo project. The agency will receive lease payments and get a percentage of renewable energy credits from the system owner. The owner also must strike a power-purchase agreement with LPEA.

The DOE estimates 4.5 megawatts is enough energy to power 1,000 homes.

Other potential bidders on the tour Tuesday were impressed as well.

It’s a great site being put to good use, said Jim Burness, business development manager at ClearEnergy Inc. in Denver. The international company is headquartered in Germany.

“You can’t do anything else with the land,” Burness said. “Solar projects are popping up all over the country on landfills and such. It’s the smart thing to do.

“If there’s a challenge, it’s developing a bid. You have to make sure the economics work.”

Don Jones, the owner of Controlled Hydronics & Electric in Telluride who would do the installation for ClearEnergy, said connecting the photovoltaic system to LPEA should be fairly easy.

Jones installed the 480-panel, 112-kilowatt system at the Telluride waste-water treatment plant.

Four Corners Solar has installed the photovoltaic system that heats 1,500 gallons of water at the Fort Lewis College student union, a 20-kilowatt system at the Durango-La Plata County Airport and a 32-kilowatt rooftop system at Mercury Payment Systems.

“I’m optimistic that we can make a competitive bid,” House said.

The Bodo Canyon burial site contains radioactive waste produced by the milling of uranium in Durango for all but three years from 1942 to 1963.

The burial site is 3.5 miles southwest of Durango. It covers 120 acres, 42 acres of which constitute the cell. The cell is covered with 7 feet of layered protective materials, including a radon membrane, a sand-filter drain, clay mat, rocks to protect against the intrusion of vegetation and a rock/soil cap.

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