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Sunny Southwest Colorado attracts major solar projects

Tri-State agrees to buy power from solar company Juwi Inc.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission plans to buy solar power from two large facilities proposed for Southwest Colorado being built by Juwi Inc. Tri-State is adding renewable power to replace the coal plants it is shutting down in New Mexico and Colorado.

Two large solar energy projects are being planned for Montezuma and Dolores counties.

The region’s energy supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, has signed contracts to purchase power from two solar projects to be built and owned by renewable energy company Juwi Inc.

The solar plants planned are the 140 megawatt Coyote Gulch project west of Arriola in Montezuma County and the 110 megawatt Dolores Canyon project east of Cahone in Dolores County.

Combined construction costs for both projects is $250 million, said Brad Nebergall, Tri-State senior vice president of energy management, during the June 17 Empire Electric Association annual board meeting.

The projects will be owned and operated by Juwi and create 200 to 300 jobs at peak construction, plus several permanent jobs once online.

Total increased county tax revenue from both projects was estimated at $15 million over their lifespan, Nebergall said, which is typically 35 to 40 years.

The maximum combined generation of 250 megawatts would serve the equivalent of 75,000 average homes annually. The power will be uploaded onto nearby Tri-State interstate transmission lines.

“We are pleased that two of our big new solar projects will be in Empire’s service area. These will be state-of-the-art projects,” Nebergall said at the annual Empire meeting.

Empire Electric is not involved in the construction, ownership or financing of the projects. Power will go out on the larger grid and be used locally because the Empire system includes Tri-State lines.

Solar arrays for both solar plants will be installed on private land leased from owners. The projects are pending approval by county commissioners in both counties and must go through the local county planning process.

Projects are in the planning stages, with an anticipated construction in 2022 and startup in 2023.

“We are very excited to have signed long-term power purchase agreements with Tri-State for these projects and look forward to developing, building and operating them when they come online in the future,” said Jay Sonnenberg, a Juwi spokesperson, in an email to The Journal. “We are making very good progress on the development of both projects and hope to get them in a shovel-ready state in 2022.”

Coyote Gulch Solar project

In Montezuma County, the 140 megawatt Coyote Gulch project is west of Arriola.

The preliminary area being considered is bordered by county roads T and P on the north and south, and between county roads 16 and 18 on the west and east, said Juwi project manager Bryan Lohoff.

It would be east of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

The Coyote Gulch Solar project is being planned for west of Arriola.

Juwi is studying about 3,000 acres of land for what will be a 1,000-acre project, Lohoff said. The Coyote Gulch project includes an estimated 400,000 solar panels.

Montezuma County Planning Director Don Haley said an application for the Coyote Gulch project has not been submitted yet, but is anticipated. It will require a high-impact permit and special-use permit, he said.

Neighbors will be notified about the project details, and there will be public hearings. The application will first be reviewed by the county planning and zoning board for recommendations, and then be reviewed and decided on by the county commissioners.

The proposed Coyote Gulch project area is zoned agricultural-residential.

In 2015, the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution prioritizing solar development and designated it a “use by right” in industrial and agricultural-residential zoned parcels.

Dolores Canyon Solar project

The 110 megawatt Dolores Canyon project will be on about 800 acres northwest of Cahone and east of the Dolores River Canyon.

Lohoff said the preliminary approximate boundaries are County Road L on the north, County Road N on the south, County Road 15 on the west, and the Dolores River Canyon on the east.

The Dolores Canyon solar farm project is being planned for northwest of Cahone in Dolores County.

An application for the project has been submitted by Juwi and is being reviewed by the planning board, said Dolores County Planning Director Margaret Daves. It will also be reviewed and ultimately decided on by the Dolores County commissioners.

Public hearings will be held about the project and are have not yet been scheduled. The next Dolores County planning board meeting is July 19, but it is not the date of public hearing.

Latest technology

Solar panels for both projects will track the sun. They also use the latest bifacial technology, which allows sunlight to be collected from the top of the panel, as well as from the bottom to catch light reflected from the ground. This is especially effective when snow has fallen.

“The innovative technology continues to drive down costs of solar,” Nebergall said.

Tri-State is gaining ground on its renewable energy goals, said public relations specialist Lee Boughey, in an interview with The Journal.

Currently, 36% of Tri-State’s electricity comes from renewables, and the forecast is 50% by 2023 and 70% by 2030.

“These projects are an important part of our goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2030, and supports the state’s emission reduction goals,” Boughey said. “It is important for Tri-State to invest in, and locate, renewable energy projects in communities we serve.”

He said cost of solar has come down 80% since 2009, and the low costs help to support reduced wholesale rates. Tri-State recently reduced its wholesale rates by 2% and expects to lower it by that much again.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com