Get Big Pivots

Colorado Solar and Storage Association adds staff with a mission to work with local governments on solar siting and education


by Allen Best

Credit The Denver Post for posing the question bluntly. If San Miguel County, whose best-known town is Telluride, has a moratorium on new solar developments, do we have seriously hard edges in Colorado?

Oh, the newspaper didn’t ask the question quite like that, but it did use a very big headline on the front page of its Sunday edition on May 26: “SOLAR SHOWDOWNS ACROSS COLORADO.”

The story appeared a week after the Colorado Solar and Storage Association announced its second hire of a staff member. Durango-based Adrienne Dorsey is to work with local community planners and elected officials on the state’s Western Slope as they develop codes governing solar.

About a year before, COSSA hired Jeremiah Garrick to bore down on details of land use and codes.

Mike Kruger, the chief executive of COSSA, uses the phrase “social license to operate” frequently when explaining these hires to his staff.

In one definition, social license to operate refers to “the perceptions of local stakeholders that a project, a company, or an industry that operates in a given area or region is socially acceptable or legitimate.”

In other words, are these good people doing good things?

Colorado has a humongous amount of solar to build in the next couple of decades as it stretches to reinvent electricity and energy more broadly. Will Toor, who directs the Colorado Energy Office, estimates a quintupling of solar capacity in the state.

“That means that for every solar panel you see you will need four more. For every solar garden, we need four more. We’re at the front edge of this build-out, and we want to be sure that the counties have a fuller understand of what is happening and we have the social license to operate.”

Five counties in Colorado currently have moratoria on solar developments and four are on the Western Slope: Delta, Montrose, and Rio Blanco plus San Miguel.

Chaffee, located on the Eastern Slope, also has a moratorium.

Other counties have had moratoria while they assembled regulations. Two of the state’s largest counties, Weld and Mesa, fall in that category. Their county seats are Greeley and Grand Junction respectively.

At least one Colorado county has adopted regulations so restrictive as to be arguably a ban. In Akron, county seat for Washington County, in eastern Colorado, the solar power production zoning regulations stipulate no advertising shall be allowed on any part of the facility, including the fencing and support structures.

Then there are rules governing color and surfaces of solar installations, which would minimize visual disruption by using white, beige, off-white, gray or another non-reflective, unobtrusive color.” The photovoltaic panels are dark; they work most effectively that way. Applying colors over the panels reduces their effectiveness, cutting the economic margins.

(Do these mean what they seem to mean? We’re checking with Washington County and will return to this subject).

Dorsey joined COSSA to look after outreach on the Western Slope after two-plus years with the La Plata Open space conservancy. Before that, working in metro Denver, she was with GRID Alternatives Colorado for almost five years, the latter three-plus years as director; and for three years she was with the Colorado Energy Office.

Her role will be to use her prior experience in solar energy and land use to “propel strategic projects and partnership that aim to empower rural communities throughout Colorado’s Western Slope.”

She will be responsible for putting together symposia similar to those that COSSA has previously conducted in Rifle, Hayden, and other locations to facilitate dialogue among key stakeholders, decision-makers, and local leaders.

Kruger further clarifies that the goal is to “ensure the communities that will be hosting these facilities have all their concerns addressed and all the correct information, and that our local partners understand our technology.” He also indicated there’s a two-way street: the solar industry needs to understand the local concerns.

COSSA is a 501(c)6 under federal tax laws, as required for political trade associations. This new arm of COSSA is a 501(c )3, with the primary emphasis on education and research.

Allen Best
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