by Matie Belle Lakish

A week before their 60 day deadline expired, the Saguache County Commissioners approved the application from SolarReserve to build a 656 foot tall, 100 megawatt Power Tower generation facility about five miles from the town of Center. Commissioner Sam Pace made a motion “to approve SolarReserve’s 1041 permit and directed staff to prepare a resolution with the appropriate findings that SolarReserve meets all criteria for issuance of a 1041 permit with conditions, and that the development agreement should be approved as part of the permitting process.” Mike Spearman seconded the motion. Vote was two ayes, one nay, with Commissioner Linda Joseph voting no.

The 656 foot tall tower will be surrounded by thousands of mirrors, or heliostats, which will focus sunlight on a receiver at the top of the tower. This concentrated sunlight will heat sodium and potassium nitrate salts to roughly 800 to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. That heat, which can be stored in the molten salt form until after dark, will run a traditional turbine generating system to produce electricity. The patented technology was developed by Rocketdyne and was tested on a much smaller scale at Sandia National Laboratory in the 1980’s. SolarReserve now has a similar facility permitted in California, and another under construction in Nevada.

When asked for comments on his vote, Commissioner Pace said, “With the help of Linda Joseph, Mike Spearman, Nancy Lauro, Wendi Maez, Ben Gibbons and Solar Reserve staff we were able to craft an agreement which meets the criteria and findings necessary to satisfy the requirements in our ‘1041’ regulations and greatly benefit Saguache County citizens. I voted yes to give our county the opportunity to move forward towards the necessary shift to renewable energy.” Pace has also said that he feels the shift to renewable energy is extremely important for our planet, and he welcomes all renewable energy projects.

Linda Joseph, while not disagreeing with the need for renewable energy, said she felt the “resolution was premature”. She felt the commissioners should have taken advantage of the remaining week to get another expert legal opinion and resolve other outstanding questions about the application.

Mike Spearman, who has led the effort to assure that SolarReserve would hire local workers, was only partially successful. He solicited promises to provide training to local citizens for jobs that would be connected with the project, but was unable to secure a firm commitment from SolarReserve that their contractors and sub-contractors would actually hire locals. SolarReserve did promise to fund job training, a visitors center, and kiosk in Center.

Another commitment will fund the de-commissioning of the facility at the end of its life. SolarReserve will provide a decommissioning bond, or other assurance, in graduated amounts of from $1 million at start of construction to $10 million in year 20.

There are several steps before SolarReserve will begin construction, including securing a Power Purchase Agreement, or a buyer for the 100 MW of power they hope to produce with their first tower and heliostat array. The second tower may await an expansion of transmission capacity. The application is on the Saguache County website, and the Conditions and Development Agreement will be posted soon.