Solar battle brews at Garfield County airport
December 25, 2010
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A small parcel of land at the Garfield County Regional Airport is about to become the focus of a bidding war among solar-energy contractors hoping to use county property as a site for solar panels.
But the man whose actions spawned the bidding competition, a solar contractor who approached Garfield County earlier this year about using the land, said this week that he feels he got the raw end of the deal.
“I feel like I was railroaded,” said Walker Gross of SoleVento LLC, of Fort Collins, speaking two days after a meeting with the Board of County Commissioners in Glenwood Springs.
“There were no other businesses interested in that property until I showed up,” he lamented. “Then everybody got interested.”
He explained that he felt one of his competitors, Craig Chisesi with Fontus Air, Water and Solar of Rifle, unfairly stepped into the middle of Gross’s negotiations with the county, although he said he felt the commissioners “did the best they could” with a confusing situation.
Chisesi, saying he was representing his own firm and others, appeared at the commissioners’ meeting on Dec. 20 to push for a public bidding process for the site, which is about three or four acres of county-owned land that essentially was created when the runway was realigned over the course of the past year. The airport is located outside of Rifle.
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Commissioners earlier in the year had agreed to lease a neighboring parcel of roughly the same size to the locally based Clean Energy Collective, a nonprofit entity that plans to sign up customers for the solar power it generates from solar panels at the airport and in other locales. The power itself is to go to a local utility, and the value of that power is then to be discounted from the customers’ bills.
Gross contacted airport manager Brian Condie well after the CEC deal was agreed to, saying he had discovered the available county land through a search of the Internet.
He said he was hoping to sign a contract with the Holy Cross Electric utility, which would buy power generated from a second set of solar panels at the airport, and to pay Garfield County an estimated $7,000 to $10,000 per month in fees.
Chisesi argued that the county should put the entire parcel, including the CEC site, up for bid.
“There’s a lot of interest … to bid on these projects,” Chisesi told commissioners.
County officials were concerned for a time that both the CEC and the SoleVento contacts were “unsolicited proposals,” about which the county never advertised.
“There is no set policy for unsolicited proposals,” said airport manager Brian Condie at the Dec. 20 meeting.
This situation disturbed Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who has said before that the county should be putting such matters out to bid.
“If other interest comes forward, you have to go through the procurement process,” she said on Dec. 20 , reiterating earlier remarks. “We have local companies that could be interested.”
Commissioners voted to open up the unclaimed parcel to bids, but because the CEC deal already is under contract it will not be affected.
Gross said on Dec. 22 that, despite feeling he was not fairly dealt with, he will submit a bid for use of the airport land.
Gross is still planning to submit a proposal to Holy Cross Electric to provide power from solar generating facilities, as are Chisesi and several other companies.
The utility is seeking renewable-energy contracts to comply with state requirements that a certain amount of the energy it delivers to customers be generated from renewable sources.