NEW CASTLE — More than 100 town residents made it clear they want to preserve their open space in the Castle Valley Ranch subdivision, and that’s what they told town council members in no uncertain terms at a workshop meeting Tuesday night.
Within the last two weeks, the town has entertained the possibility of using a four-plus acre parcel of town-owned land in the northern part of the subdivision for a solar garden. However, residents whose homes neighbor the property vehemently objected, and the town quickly scrapped the site as a possible location.
Instead, representatives from Clean Energy Collective, which would have constructed the 500 kilowatt solar garden with 1,600 panels, were on hand at the informational meeting to answer questions.
Mayor Bob Gordon began the meeting apologizing for the confusion and said the town realized that the site was probably not appropriate.
“I apologize about the confusion when we started this,” Mayor Bob Gordon told the crowd. “We want to make intelligent decisions and we wanted to hear from everyone and especially the people who live around that area. The one thing we have learned is that it might not have been a good location. We were just anxious and wanted to have this for the people of New Castle.”
Representatives from the CEC said they understood the residents’ concerns and hope to still be able to bring solar energy to Garfield County.
“I think the meeting went as expected — we had already decided that site was not a good location,” said Michelle Zimmerman, land manager for CEC. “But this said a lot about the community. Every phone call I got was initially emotionally charged, but changed within a couple of minutes. “
The informational meeting itself got emotional as residents demanded answers to questions about why the site had been chosen in the first place, what other locations were being looked at and what they could do to protect open space in the subdivision in the future.
The town is currently looking at some other possible privately owned sites on the west end of town near Elk Creek Elementary, but it is doubtful that anything can be finalized in time for the award cycle being offered by Excel Energy.
Right now, there is only one solar array site in the county at the Garfield County Airport, for use only by Holy Cross Electric customers. There is no solar energy site available in the county for Xcel Energy customers.
But CEC says it is still interested in bringing solar energy to Garfield County.
“We are definitely interested in Garfield County and we want to work with Xcel if they offer another round of awards,” Zimmerman said. “This meeting showed that the [New Castle] community really came together to make sure their neighborhoods retain their open space.”