by Matie Belle Lakish

Uncertainty surrounds Tessera’s application to build a large-scale solar generating facility in Saguache County, as Saguache County Commissioners try to understand correspondence from Tessera. In a letter dated January 11, 2011, County Attorney Ben Gibbons served formal notice to Tessera that their application is suspended “until the terms of the escrow agreement are complied with by Tessera”.

The agreement with Tessera includes the maintenance of a $15,000 escrow account to cover expenses incurred by the County to process the application. In order for their application to be considered, Tessera must pay for those expenses and maintain a positive balance in the escrow account. The company needs to replenish the account, as there are several outstanding expenses.

On January 14, Howard Taylor from Tessera replied to Commissioner Sam Pace: “It is our expectation that we would bring our escrow account back to a zero balance prior to any vote on the project and we would plan to send those funds as soon as we are in agreement with the county on the actions to move forward. We would not expect to fund back to the $15k level, given it is our expectation that the reviews and work should be completed, unless we propose a change in technology.” They go on to say “we would expect the county to approve a SunCatcher based project that is in the size range of 50 to 100 MW, and would also include restrictions/requirements that if we desired to increase the project size back to its original size of 140 to 200 MW, we must amend the 1041 application to account for the new equipment layout and noise elimination through a technology change.” However, they also refer to amending the application to accommodate another technology, such as PV or CPV.

This brings up several questions for both citizens and commissioners. Is Tessera trying to force the Commissioners’ hand by refusing to pay for any further studies or a completion of the public hearing? Do they plan to bring forward a proposal to use a different, perhaps lower-impact technology? Are they waiting for the Commissioners to refuse their application so they can do this?

In a subsequent communication on January 19, Attorney Gibbons stated that the “County is willing” to set a date for the continued hearing “once an agreement is reached on Tessera providing, in advance, the costs associated with conducting that hearing”.  He than outlines expenses that the County has incurred that must be paid before the County could move forward. These include expenses to complete the Public Hearing. But there was no mention of replenishing the account to the agreed upon $15,000 required by their contract.

Gibbons stated, “It is anticipated that Tessera will present the results of the latest sound study, as well as any additional responses to the issues which were raised at the December 6, 2010 public hearing”, then reminded Tessera that the Commissioners’ decision would be made on the application submitted with any amendments, and then pointedly asked if the board should consider the January 14, 2011 letter “a request to amend the application for approval of a maximum of 100 Megawatt sun-catcher facility?”

The Gibbons letter seems to indicate the Commissioners would be willing to move forward with Tessera’s application if they were to reach an agreement on advanced costs. At the Commissioners’ meeting on January 18, the County’s Attorney, Ben Gibbons, and Commissioners discussed their options, and the meaning of Tessera’s communication, and decided to draft a letter to be sent by Certified Mail to request a clarification of Tessera’s intentions. Hopefully, by the meeting on February 1, when Tessera is again on the Land Use agenda, we’ll have some news on the resumption of the Public Hearing, a withdrawal of Tessera’s application, or a change to a new PV or CPV technology.