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Support wildlife, oppose solar facility with no local benefit

Barry Spear

La Plata County review has halted the proposed Hesperus Solar until California-based Primergy corrects numerous application deficiencies for the 155-megawatt, industrial-scale solar facility. Primergy must receive county approval to build the 500,000-panel project on 1,920 acres containing Critical Wildlife Habitat, 10 miles southwest of Durango.

On Jan. 4, county staff filed part one of a two-part Determination of Completeness, citing 113-some deficiencies, which need to be completed in Primergy’s application before review continues for the required construction permit.

In addition to 500,000 panels, which would cover an area larger than the surface of Lake Nighthorse, Primergy proposes to build a 155-megawatt substation and a lithium-ion battery storage facility in the rural setting of agricultural lands and high Colorado plateau vegetation. None of the generated power would be used locally.

Part One of the County’s Determination of Completeness requires more than one-sentence promises and seeks details for 1) why the county needs the project; 2) benefits to the county (beyond speculative taxes); (3) efforts to identify alternative locations; (4) why this is the best use for the 1,920 acres; (5) addressing impacts to residents and to critical wildlife habitat; (6) emergency procedures for wildfire and other hazards; and (7) effects on water quality and quantity, and the aquifer that feeds Long Hollow Reservoir. See more at entry 1.4.2023, https://cityview.laplata.co.us/Planning/Status?planningId=14942

When Part Two, being undertaken by county consultant ERO Resources, is completed, Primergy will have 60 days to “make complete” its application. If Primergy fails to make required corrections, no further county review will occur and the permit will not be issued. If the corrections are acceptable, the application will move into “content review” by county staff to determine whether Hesperus Solar complies with all land-use regulations. After a public hearing, county commissioners will approve or deny the necessary permit.

Hesperus Solar should not be constructed on the 1,920 acres, classified by CPW as Critical Wildlife Habitat, prime elk and deer migration areas, and winter range.

Other wildlife currently using the acreage include black bear, Gunnison’s prairie dog, bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcon, turkey, Botta’s pocket gopher, Townsend’s big-eared bat, burrowing owls, bobcat, mountain lion and possibly lynx, leopard frogs, the Southwest willowflycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo during migration.

California-based Primergy has no local ties, would create no meaningful local jobs, and would increase pressure on the local housing market and infrastructure with its 250 temporary employees during the one year of construction. LPEA will buy none of the generated power. All generated power would be transmitted via Tri-State Generation and Transmission to areas beyond southwest Colorado.

Solar energy development should be supported, when done responsibly. Building 500,000 solar panels, a substation and a storage facility on traditionally agricultural land and wildlife habitat, removing Colorado Plateau vegetation and changing the rural residential area into an industrial zone is not responsible siting.

Hesperus Solar should be located on degraded or damaged land, such as areas of decommissioned coal-burning plants. Research shows that more than enough of these lands exist to meet U.S. and global needs for sustainable energy development.

Destroying pristine environment does not have to occur to further efforts to save the environment with alternative energy.

County residents should advocate that county commissioners deny the permit by submitting comments at https://www.co.laplata.co.us/services/community_development_services/planning/faq_-_primergy_solar.php.

County residents should attend the public hearings for the application, voice their support for wildlife and their opposition to destroying pristine land for no local benefit.

The county commissioners should deny Primergy’s application, if it gets through the review process.

Barry Spear, a La Plata County resident and retired lawyer, participates in the group StopHesperusSolar.