Work underway on Yampa Valley’s largest regional solar array

Suzie Romig
Craig Press
Work began in early May for what will be the largest solar array so far in the Yampa Valley located on the eastern edge of Craig. Four municipalities and Routt and Moffat counties will benefit from the sun-powered energy.
Peter Brixius/Courtesy photo

Renewable energy developer Ameresco broke ground in early May on a new 20-acre, 4-megawatt regional solar array in Craig that will supply clean energy to operations for four municipalities and two counties in the Yampa Valley.

Once completed in September, the project will be the largest solar array built so far in the valley.

“The benefits of the project include the fact that solar PV projects operate quietly and generate electricity without producing greenhouse gas emissions,” Craig City Manager Peter Brixius said.

The Yampa Valley Regional Solar Garden located on the east side of Craig next to the Yampa Valley Electric Association co-op office will provide sun-powered electricity for the cities of Steamboat Springs and Craig, towns of Hayden and Yampa, and Routt and Moffat counties.

The six regional partners will utilize half the power from the field and assign their energy credits to different utility meters or specific administrative and departmental facilities and locations as established by the Power Purchase Agreement among the owner, Ameresco, and YVEA, Brixius explained.

Craig is serving as the lead and fiscal manager of the project, and developer Ameresco will own and operate the solar field, Brixius said. Planning for the project started more than three years ago with support provided from the state. The overall cost of the project is subsidized through $2.3 million in grants to the regional partners.

“A Regional Solar Garden concept was presented to the Department of Local Affairs in 2019 and funded with renewable energy set-aside dollars proposed by Gov. Jared Polis and approved by the Colorado legislature,” Brixius explained.

The array originally was proposed for a 2-megawatt project but doubled in size with the cooperation of YVEA, which purchased and owns the land beneath the ground-mounted array, Brixius said.

Ameresco, based in Massachusetts, previously installed a 5-megawatt solar array and a 15-megawatt battery energy storage system on land leased from Colorado Mountain College at the Spring Valley campus south of Glenwood Springs with power purchased by co-op Holy Cross Energy.

The new solar field in Craig will utilize single-axis tracker solar panels, meaning the panels will rotate to follow the sun from east to west daily, which increases the project’s overall electricity generation. The ground-mounted solar photovoltaic system will be comprised of two arrays that employ 9,750 bifacial solar panels, which collect sunlight on both sides of the panel to also capture light reflected off the ground, Brixius said.

The solar array, designed for a 35-year lifespan, will be interconnected into YVEA’s distribution system and is calculated to generate 9.64 million kilowatt hours annually, or nearly 184 million kilowatt hours over the next 20 years, Brixius said. Throughout those 20 years, the clean energy produced will avoid 130,321 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent of pollution, per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator. The city manager pointed out that 130,321 metric tons of CO2 equivalent equates to the emissions from 29,000 passenger vehicles driven for one year or the electricity use by 25,357 U.S. homes for one year.

Also in Moffat County, a huge 145-megawatt solar project is planned for south of Craig, approximately halfway between Axial and Hamilton on Colorado Highway 13 near the Colowyo Mine, said Mark Stutz, public relations specialist for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. The project is being developed by German company Juwi, which has an office in Boulder, and the total electricity output will be sold to Tri-State through a long-term power purchase agreement.

The Axial Basin Solar Project, first announced in January 2020, will be built on land near the mine and is located within the White River Electric Association service territory. The ground-mounted solar facility is scheduled for completion in late 2024.

More large-scale solar arrays could be coming to Routt County as well, due to interest expressed by developers following a December 2022 request for proposals from Xcel Energy for new renewable energy generation.

Mike Kruger, CEO of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association, said several developers secured land contracts for Yampa Valley properties as part of their proposals to Xcel submitted before March 1. Kruger said existing Xcel infrastructure in the valley makes adding large solar projects more feasible.

“There is a lot of existing Xcel infrastructure throughout Routt and Moffat counties because of the existing coal-powered plants that can be used by developers,” Kruger explained. “You would not need to build a lot of additional transmission lines.”

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