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Solar farm near Aspen set to start construction in spring

35-acre project has new owner but should be finished by the fall

A former industrial site off McLain Flats Road near the Rio Grande Trail between Woody Creek and Aspen will be home to a new solar farm, which will cover 35 acres and should start being built by fall 2021. (Aspen Times file photo)

Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday enthusiastically re-endorsed a solar farm they approved last year that hasn’t yet been built.

A new solar energy company has taken the reins of the project and plans to finish construction at the former industrial site off McLain Flats Road between Woody Creek and Aspen by the fall, an official said.

“We’re quite excited about this project and what it represents,” said Nathan Hewitt, a senior manager with Oakland, Calif.-based Primergy Solar, which took over from Renewable Energy Systems as the builder and operator of the farm.



Hewitt said Primergy plans to own and operate the facility for the long-term and wants to be a part of the Pitkin County community.

Primergy hopes to begin building the solar farm on 35 acres owned by the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District in March and complete construction by September, said Leslie Lamont, Pitkin County senior planner. The project involves the sanitation district — which will receive lease payments for the land and a break on its roughly $280,000 electric bill — as well as Holy Cross Energy.



The farm is expected to generate 5 megawatts of power, which will be transferred to Holy Cross transmission lines via an underground, half-mile connector line the power company plans to build. That is enough electricity to power about 900 homes, a company official has estimated.

Holy Cross announced earlier this week a plan to provide 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030.

The site was previously used for 30 years by the sanitation district to dispose of treated wastewater under a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency and is under the flight path for the Aspen airport.

RES estimated that building the farm — which it said would have about 18,000 panels no more than 10½ feet high — would cost between $6.2 million and $7.2 million to build.

Hewitt did not address cost estimates Wednesday, but did say that his company will use double-sided collection panels, which will lower the number of panels at the site by about 1,500. The double panels will allow the modules to absorb solar energy reflected off the snow, he said.

In addition, the company will use black-framed collection modules to reduce reflection, he said.

Primergy is still in the process of completing design of the farm, which it will submit to Pitkin County’s Community Development Department, Hewitt said.

Some residents of nearby Woody Creek and the W/J Ranch housing development as well as many residents of Brush Creek Village, perched in the hills above Brush Creek Road on the other side of Highway 82 and overlooking the farm, came out vehemently against the project. Many other members of the community – in particular younger residents – came out strongly in favor of the project and its benefits to the climate.

The commissioners’ meeting room – back before COVID-19 when the meeting room in the Pitkin County Administration Building on Main Street was publicly accessible – was standing-room only when the board approved the project in November 2019.

All five members of the county board voted for the project then, and reiterated that support Wednesday.

“I’m super-enthusiastic about it,” said Commissioner Greg Poschman, a Brush Creek Village resident who said he can see the site from his home. “It’s one of the most benign ways we can do something positive to power our community.”

Commissioner George Newman, a strong supporter of green initiatives, agreed.

“Greg, it’s really a field of dreams,” Newman said, bringing up the climate actions plans already outlined by the incoming Biden Administration. “It’s new era we’ve not seen in decades really. It is really promising.”

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said she’s received more comments from the public about the solar farm than any other project the board has addressed during her first two years in office.

Mona Newton, director of the Community Office of Resource Efficiency, said climate change is “not slowing down” and urged commissioners to move quickly.

“It feels like it’s taken a long time (to initiate the project),” she said. “I can hardly wait to ride my bike on the Rio Grande Trail and see it going in.”

 


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