Guest commentary: This is what local solar power tastes like in Pitkin County |

Guest commentary: This is what local solar power tastes like in Pitkin County

Mona Newton
Guest commentary

Potatoes unearthed in Emma, chard harvested in Old Snowmass, herbs raised at Cozy Point. Who doesn’t love the bounty of Roaring Fork Valley produce and the simple efficiency of connecting food producers to food consumers? The local food movement has helped to develop more resilient food networks, bolster local economies, and strengthen the health, environment and community in small geographical regions like our valley.

Local food doesn’t just make better cherry tomatoes, it makes sense.

What if we could do the same for local energy? Homegrown power generation is no pie-in-the-sky dream. By harvesting our bountiful sunshine, solar farming is a viable path to a clean-energy future. And it could be happening here in our valley — with your support.

Thanks to a new five-megawatt project on the table, we have the opportunity to build a solar project a mile north of the airport on land that was previously used by Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District for biosolid disposal. The proposed facility, known as Pitkin County Solar, is a partnership between Holy Cross Energy, ACSD and RES, a Broomfield-based renewable energy developer. The project would deliver clean energy to the grid, the equivalent of powering 1,000 homes per year. Pitkin County Solar’s harvest would be used to offset the energy consumption and carbon debt of some of the utility’s largest accounts, as well as Holy Cross members who opt in for their Renewable Energy Purchasing Program.

CORE is championing this project because we believe that energy efficiency and renewable energy are the twin engines that will drive us to a zero-carbon future. We encourage you to get behind it as well. Here are six reasons why Pitkin County Solar deserves your robust support:

1. A solar farm at our doorstep demonstrates that we take 100% clean energy seriously.

Pitkin County Solar would be at the entrance to our resort, within sight of Highway 82, the Rio Grande Trail and aircraft arriving at Sardy Field. Visibility is a plus, demonstrating that our community walks its environmental talk. As Tyler Lindsay, who lives within 100 meters of the proposed project, said: “We should be putting our infrastructure more front and center. Everyone coming into town should see that we take this seriously.”

2. It pencils out on ROI, health and environment.

Clean energy isn’t just common sense; it makes economic sense. By 2020, Forbes magazine reports renewables will be consistently cheaper than fossil fuels. This means that projects like Pitkin County Solar can provide affordable, local renewable power to Holy Cross’s members. Combine this with two other indicators — positive health outcomes and environmental protection — and you’ve got a win-win-win.

3. It makes our community more resilient.

Local renewable energy generation makes the grid stronger and more reliable. By diversifying the power supply mix and generating more energy close to home, Pitkin County Solar helps to ensure safer, more dependable energy delivery.

4. It’s the ideal location.

The property identified by Pitkin County Solar is located on a parcel of land owned by ACSD, intentionally selected to be within one half mile of a Holy Cross distribution line and close to some of the utility’s largest energy consumers. Because the parcel was previously a biosolids dry-farming site, the project also puts disturbed land to an environmentally beneficial use.

5. It poses minimal wildlife impacts, meets the environmental criteria for solar facilities.

In a report by biologist Jonathan Lowsky of Colorado Wildlife Science, the proposed site is free of valuable wildlife habitat, including that of elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and moose. “Development of this site for solar energy production will completely avoid areas of high biodiversity or species richness, relatively undisturbed ecosystems, important seasonal wildlife habitat, and wildlife movement corridors.”

6. Pitkin County residents want renewables.

In a recent Holy Cross survey, 78% of Pitkin County respondents indicated they would like to increase the energy that comes from renewable sources and 80% would like to be able to purchase renewable power from the grid. No matter what’s going on at the federal level, we can create local climate solutions.

If you want local solar, we encourage you to get behind Pitkin County Solar. This is what it looks like. This is what it tastes like: the sweet cherry tomatoes of renewable energy, grown within miles of home.

Mona Newton is the executive director of CORE, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency.