Delta County going forward with massive solar farm project

The Garnet Mesa Solar Farm
Updated: Sep. 8, 2022 at 10:30 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) - After losing to an initial divided vote, a large solar farm project is now going forward in Delta County.

Guzman Energy has been given the go-ahead from the Delta County Commissioners to proceed with the Garnet Mesa Solar Farm project.

In March 2022, the Delta County Commissioners shot down the project in a 2-1 vote. There were concerns about the land itself and the impacts of having the solar panels installed. One concern was how the land would be irrigated.

“They said, they’re just going to flood irrigate it, and that was a big concern, given the soil type, the inability to get, you know, tractors and equipment inside those panels,” said commissioner Don Suppes, who was the lone in-favor vote. “We were concerned that without proper marking, without proper distribution of water, that you weren’t going to be able to irrigate it properly.

Suppes said the biggest point of controversy was the initial irrigation plans. He said those plans were changed before the commissioners voted and passed the project through.

According to Suppes, another issue with the project was not being able to use the land once the solar farm was completed. People still wanted to be able to use the land. With that in mind, a unique solution was presented: livestock.

“You’re not going to be able to get a row crop in there,” said Suppes. “You’re going to have to be something that you graze, and given the height to the panels and everything, sheep was just a natural fit. So I think it was just the logical conclusion for how you operate an ag farm in conjunction with the solar farm.”

Suppes said livestock and agriculture are the two biggest industries in Delta County and having the sheep graze on the field with the solar panels, it’ll give the land more than one use. As the lone in-favor vote in the initial commissioner vote, he’s always been on board.

“I’ve long said that the state of Colorado would turn us off fossil fuels tomorrow if they had the opportunity, and we better be prepared,” said Suppes. “This is one way to help us be prepared.”

In the end, Suppes said it wasn’t an easy decision. There are people who live next to the intended location.

“You got to feel for these neighbors out there,” said Suppes. “When they bought their property, they didn’t plan on living next to a solar farm. They planned on operating next to a cattle farm or a hay field. This isn’t what they envisioned, you know, some of these people, this is their retirement home, their dream home, and now they’re going to be next to a solar farm.”

At this point Suppes said there is no timeline for when the project construction will start or when it’s expected to be finished. He did say though the county has a bit of a fail-safe should anything go wrong.

“There is there’s $4.4 million in decommissioning bonding on this project,” said Suppes. “So, if something goes wrong, D.M.E.A. or Guzman don’t follow through with their agreement, as per the development agreement, the county can go in and then pull the application, pull on the bond and decommission the site.”

A decommission bond is geared toward taking the burden from landowners and taxpayers and instead puts the responsibility for decommissioning onto the project’s owner.

Although he acknowledges not everyone is onboard with the farm, Suppes believes it will be a good thing for Delta County.

“I’ve learned more about solar than I ever wanted to know,” said Suppes. “Everybody’s done their homework, and everybody’s done a really good job to make sure that this is going to be a good project for Delta County.”

As for the power that’s generated, Guzman Energy owns and produces the power. As the owner, they will sell the produced power to customers such as the Delta-Montrose Electric Association. D.M.E.A. said it will purchase enough power to increase its locally generated power by up to 15 to 20%. D.M.E.A. also has local hydro generation. Between the solar energy and the hydro energy, D.M.E.A. expects to have enough locally produced energy for roughly 7,000 to 10,000 homes. When asked how much D.M.E.A. will pay for the solar energy, Becky Mashburn, the Member Relations Manager, said the price is confidential information, but it will be a competitive price and it is locked in for life as per the agreement with Guzman Energy.

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