There’s gold in them thar skies |

There’s gold in them thar skies

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – There is a “solar rush” under way in Garfield County, and it is aimed directly at the county’s regional airport near Rifle.

Similar to the gold-rush days of California and Alaska, this rush appears to be among firms interested in cashing in on America’s growing interest in green technology and alternative sources of energy.

The airport already is to be the site of one planned solar array, by the Clean Energy Collective company, that is intended to provide power to area homes and businesses.

Now another company named SoleVento LLC has approached the county with a similar idea, but with the goal of providing power to Holy Cross Energy, the rural electric cooperative that serves customers around the Western Slope.

Walker Gross of Fort Collins, representing SoleVento, told the Garfield County commissioners on Monday that his firm is responding to a request for proposals put out by Holy Cross recently.

“Holy Cross,” Gross said, “is just looking to buy more clean energy, because of the demand from Vail and Aspen.”

CEC, on the other hand, will provide solar energy to customers who sign up to become part of the cooperative.

According to Gross’ presentation to the Board of County Commissioners, SoleVento expects to generate 2.3 megawatts (one megawatt is equal to 1 million watts of power) from its solar panels, which it hopes to build on a land at the county airport.

The SoleVento plan is to erect solar panels on top of steel “piers” sunk into the ground, on one-half of a parcel of land at the western end of the runway.

The other half of the parcel already is leased to CEC.

There was some confusion at Monday’s meeting about whether the county should solicit proposals from other companies for the land that SoleVento is hoping to lease, in order to live up to the county’s competitive bidding process.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt said she is aware of local companies that might be interested in submitting such a bid, although airport manger Brian Condie pointed out that CEC did not submit a bid for its lease.

Deputy county attorney Carolyn Dahlgren suggested to the commissioners that “we’ve already crossed that bridge” and the county does not need to set up a competitive bidding process in this case, but was directed to look into the matter further before the commissioners’ last meeting of 2010, on Dec. 20.

Gross said he had no problem with the idea of a bidding process, explaining that preliminary calculations indicate his company would pay between $7,000 and $10,000 per month to the county in lease fees, based on a percentage of the company’s profits.

His only concern, he said, is that he get a decision on whether or not SoleVento will get the lease in time to complete a proposal to Holy Cross by a Jan. 31 deadline.

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