Get Big Pivots

The new plan before Delta County calls for three types of irrigation. Will that revise the vote of commissioners?


When Delta-Montrose Electric Association finally got its freedom from Tri-State Generation and Transmission in 2020, the electrical cooperative had hoped to leverage its new partnership with wholesale supplier Guzman Energy to develop its solar capacity.

Guzman had previously helped Taos-based Kit Carson Electric gain its independence from Tri-State in 2016 after committing to pay a $37 million exit fee. With aid of Guzman, Kit Carson immediately set out to develop solar farmers in its service territory in northern New Mexico.

In early June, it achieved both milestones, finishing the final solar project that will allow the cooperative to meet the day-time demands of its members/customers and, on June 30th, it made its last payment to Tri-State (or is it a financier?)

In Colorado, the solar plans for Delta-Montrose Electric have gotten off to a rockier start. In March, Delta County commissioners voted 2-1 to reject a proposal for a solar project on two parcels with a combined 380 acres a few miles east of Delta. The commissioners cited uneasiness about the compatibility of the project with agriculture that dominates the area, but a subtext seemed to be doubts about the plans for irrigation.

Up to 1,000 sheep were to be grazed on the property on which the solar photovoltaic panels were to be placed, and the grass for their grazing was to be grown with flood irrigation. Might that produce problems for the foundations of solar panels?

The solar developer, Citra Power, which is relatively new to Colorado, returned in late June with a new plan. The key difference lies in how the land would be irrigated.

This proposal calls for three different irrigation techniques instead of flood irrigation, which altogether had a projected cost of $1.5 million as of late June.

“Sprinklers will be mounted below the solar panels along the supporting structures,” explained Matthew Kosakowski, project manager for Citra Power, in a written response to a request for clarification from Big Pivots. “Gated pipes will be strategically located between solar rows, and drip heads will be deployed as needed in areas requiring additional coverage.”

The project team that had come up with this revamped irrigation plan had consulted with local livestock agents, the Colorado State University Extension Service, and local irrigation engineers, he said. Their feedback was consistent.

The proposal also calls for about 3,850 trees and shrubs around the project perimeter to screen the solar panels.

Crucial to the site selection was the existence of an electrical substation. The solar project will have generating capacity of 102 megawatts direct current.

The land has historically been used for cattle grazing. As such, the property taxes on this project will substantially increase the take by Delta County. Developers estimate the project will deliver $10 million in property taxes over 35 years. There will also be two full-time positions associated with the solar farm, plus the agricultural component, once construction is complete.

Construction costs are projected to fall between $75 and $80 million, with roughly a quarter of that allocated for labor. The project will have 350 to 400 people working over a 9- to 10-month period.

Allen Best
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