Basalt steps to plate, looks for hit with solar farm development |

Basalt steps to plate, looks for hit with solar farm development

Consultant hired to evaluate, plan solar farm, battery storage project

An aerial view of the Woody Creek solar farm while it was under construction last year. Basalt is exploring construction of a considerably smaller solar farm.
David Krause/The Aspen Times

Basalt town government has hired a consultant to help it deliver on a promise made to voters in the November election to pursue “green initiatives” as part of the approval of a new pot of money.

The Town Council voted 6-0 to hire a contractor who will help it plan and design a solar farm and battery storage project in the greater Basalt area. The town selected a Golden-based firm called McKinstry from eight bids that were submitted. McKinstry’s contract is for a base fee of $99,157.

Holy Cross Energy and the Pitkin County-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency helped Basalt officials evaluate the bids.

“We look forward to more progress on this. This is great,” Mayor Bill Kane after the council approved the contract.

Basalt voters approved extending an existing property tax in the November election. The extension provides the town with about $18 million in revenues from new bonds. The funds are earmarked for improvements to Midland Avenue, affordable housing projects and loosely defined environmentally friendly projects. About $2 million was committed for environmentally friendly projects.

McKinstry is tasked with evaluating potential sites that can handle enough solar panels for a system up to one-half megawatt and helping with the site selection and design. All three public school campuses are among nine sites being evaluated. The town also wants McKinstry to evaluate the feasibility of a battery energy storage system.

To put Basalt’s 0.5 megawatt project in perspective, the recently completed solar farm near Woody Creek is a 5 megawatt project that features nearly 14,000 solar panels over 35 acres.

Solar development fits in with the policies Basalt has adopted in recent years to reduce its carbon footprint. The town is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 and 80% by 2050. In addition, the town joined other governments in 2019 by declaring a Climate Emergency. The resolution on the emergency symbolized a willingness to consider climate change in all its decisions.

The town’s master plan update in 2020 identified “green” action steps that could be taken to help achieve the goal of reducing greenhouse gases. Solar development emerged as a major consideration.

McKinstry has planned and designed numerous solar arrays and overseen several energy efficiency projects. Its work has included the Northwest Colorado Regional Solar and Resiliency project, which resulted in solar arrays being erected at 13 sites in Routt and Moffat counties, completed last year. The projects will yield 2 MWdc of solar power, battery energy storage and a 50% average savings for local governments that are participating, according to McKinstry’s bid materials.

In Basalt, McKinstry will recommend a site or sites that it feels would achieve the town government’s goals and then design the projects.

It will also evaluate the potential for a battery energy storage system of BESS, where excess energy produced by the solar farm is stored for later use.

“The BESS ‘listens’ for demand spikes that may occur throughout the day, it injects power from the batteries to offset those spokes, and then recovers — recharges the battery — in the demand ‘valleys’ that occur later in the day,” McKinstry’s bid material said. “Such a system can very effectively lower the utility bill of a given facility by reducing demand, something that (photovoltaic) systems do not do well.”

The bid packet said Holy Cross Energy has relatively low demand charges, so the value of a storage system is limited.

McKinstry’s contract calls for the evaluation and design to be completed within one year.

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