Xcel request spurs solar developer interest near Hayden
Steamboat Pilot & Today
When a request for proposals from Xcel Energy for new renewable energy generation was released in December, several out-of-area developers reached out to the Routt County Planning Department expressing interest in building several large solar projects in the greater Hayden area.
Mike Kruger, CEO of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association, said several developers secured land contracts in order to include Yampa Valley properties in their proposals, which were submitted by March 1.
The competitive process attracted more than 1,000 bids, according to Michelle Aguayo, Xcel media relations representative.
Through the Xcel bid process, Routt County planning officials realized the need to update regulations to be able to better address utility-scale solar requests, said Alan Goldich, a county planner. Utility-scale solar is allowed in the agricultural and forestry zoned areas in Routt County, which represents about 98% of county zoning.
“We do allow utility-scale solar with a special-use permit in (agriculture) and forestry zone districts, but the standards that we have do not adequately address the impact that would be associated with this type of use,” Goldich said.
As part of the county’s overall subdivision and zoning regulation updates following the ratification of the Routt County Master Plan in August, county planning staff prioritized the overhaul of regulations that address utility-scale solar for completion this summer, Goldich said.
To provide community outreach and education on the utility-scale solar process, the planning department, in partnership with the Colorado Solar and Storage Association, will host a drop-in style Routt County Solar Summit from 3:30-5:30 p.m. April 26 at the Hayden Public Library.
“This is an opportunity to learn about utility-scale solar development and the impacts we may experience within Routt County,” Goldich said.
Kruger said utility-scale solar is defined as 20 megawatts or larger, which equates to about 100 acres. He said more than a dozen utility-scale solar projects are already in Colorado, generally on the Front Range.
For comparison to utility-scale solar, the Yampa Valley Community Solar Garden in Craig is about 2.5 acres. Craig City Manager Peter Brixius said a ground-breaking for a 20-acre solar garden in Craig, to become the largest solar array under construction in the Yampa Valley, will take place tentatively in May. That 4-megawatt array will be along U.S. Highway 40 just east of the Yampa Valley Electric Association office on the east edge of Craig.
Existing Xcel infrastructure in the Yampa Valley makes adding large solar projects more feasible, Kruger said.
“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 to provide low-cost energy through this request for proposals,” Kruger explained. “You would not need to build a lot of additional transmission lines.”
Discussion topics at the public Solar Summit on April 26 will include an overview of facility infrastructure, the construction implementation process, long-term management and community involvement opportunities for updating the zoning regulations that govern utility scale solar.
Goldich said although county regulations include some guidance on public utilities such as for structure height, site access and fire safety, the update process will address more issues such as possible impacts to wildlife, roads, water quality, maintenance of revegetation and displacement of current uses.
“Routt County got a lot of increased interest with some conversations with some developers,” Goldich said. “The closing of the Craig and Hayden stations will open up a lot of capacity on the high-transmission lines.”
Routt County and Steamboat Springs both earned a SolSmart silver level designation in 2020 through the U.S. Department of Energy program that helps local governments reduce barriers to solar energy use for residents and businesses. However, that solar-friendly certification did not address utility-scale solar, Goldich said.
The Xcel request for proposals from developers constitutes the largest in Colorado’s history and is a step toward delivering on the company’s Colorado Clean Energy Plan, according to a December news release from Xcel.
The new energy generation will support future plans that include early retirement or conversion of Xcel’s remaining coal units by the end of 2030. Hayden 2 will retire in 2027, and Craig 2 and Hayden 1 will retire in 2028, according to Xcel.
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