A large solar project is proposed northwest of Cortez in cooperation with Empire Electric Association.
The 5 megawatt solar energy system would be built on 52 acres off County Road 24 on private land and Empire Electric property.
It would be built and owned by Cortez Solar 2 LLC, a subsidiary of OneEnergy Development. If approved, construction is planned for September.
Empire Electric will buy the electricity under an power purchase agreement with Cortez Solar 2. The project is designed so that the electricity produced will be used within the community.
The project is adjacent to Empire’s Engineering and Operations Facility on Road L.4 and will connect directly to the utility’s distribution system. No new electrical lines on adjoining property are required. The photovoltaic solar panels will be mounted on a system that tracks the sun for maximum exposure.
It is estimated the project will produce enough energy to meet the needs of about 1,200 average American households annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalency calculator.
After a public hearing April 8, the Montezuma County Planning and Zoning board recommended the project’s high-impact permit be approved and noted that solar farms are an allowable use for that area under the land use code. It next will go in front of the county commissioners for a second public hearing and decision.
During the planning board public hearing, a few neighbors voiced concerns about the project’s impacts on the aesthetic values of the neighborhood. Its location is a mix of agricultural, residential and industrial uses.
Cathy Topper moved to the area 30 years ago for the scenic agriculture landscape. In a letter of opposition read at the meeting, she stated the solar arrays will mar her view, hurt her property value and decrease the natural aspects of the neighborhood.
“For three decades, I have been able to begin my days viewing the beautiful agricultural landscape and watching deer, rabbits, eagles ... if the solar farm is built, all I will see is a solar farm” and a few trees, Topper wrote. She expressed concerns about the loss of agricultural land and wildlife habitat and urged a new location be found away from residences.
Empire Electric touted the value of clean, renewable solar power and the affordable energy passed on to the customer.
The project “is expected to benefit all of EEA’s members by providing low-cost energy and downward rate pressure,” said Josh Dellinger, Empire Electric Association general manager, in a March 15 letter supporting the project.
A glare analysis of the solar arrays by Forge Solar concluded that no glare was anticipated for nearby homes, roads or flights using the Cortez Municipal Airport, according to project documents.
Empire is a distribution cooperative of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and purchases 95% of its power from Tri-State under a long-term contract.
Empire is free to purchase the remaining 5% of power from other sources and has chosen to do so from local solar projects, said Andy Carter, energy management advisor for Empire.
Local solar power offers “cheaper prices” than Tri-State, he said, which “helps keeps rates lower for customers and reduces operating costs.”
Empire also has a power purchase agreement with the 2.2 megawatt solar array approved for construction next to Totten Lake. That project is also being built by OneEnergy.
A third solar project, Rocky Ford, is in the planning stages for southeast of Cortez, and Empire has agreed to purchase the power from that project as well.
When combined with other Empire solar projects, the energy purchases are expected to mostly meet the 5% cap for power sources other than Tri-State.