by Matie Belle Lakish

Citizens are trying hard to keep up with developments on Concentrated Solar, and Commissioners are grappling with it as well. Tessera Solar North America has submitted a final application, and although there were areas that were still vague, according to Nancy Lauro of Summit Engineering, the consulting firm hired by Saguache County to help the Commissioners evaluate the application, the requests for further information have been met. Therefore, the Commissioners voted to accept the application and set a deadline of November 19 for Public Comments, and December 6 for a Public Hearing.

SolarReserve submitted a Preliminary Application to build a Power Tower facility on 1700 acres about 5 miles from Center. Nancy Lauro compiled the public’s un-official comments made at a September 14 meeting in Center, and presented them to Commissioners at their October 5 meeting. After some discussion, the Board instructed Lauro to submit a request for more information on several topics, and that information should be available when SolarReserve submits their final application.

In the meantime, after an initial show of potential support for the project, a new contingent of local citizens—this time from the eastern side of the proposed project—have come to meetings to protest the development. They contend, as others have, that the 656 foot high tower will be a major eyesore and that the 17,000 reflective mirrors will create enough heat to injure or kill migratory birds. John and Erika Keyes have set up a website, www.FriedCranes.org.

However, everyone—proponents and critics alike—are hampered in their efforts to predict just what will happen when these massive projects are built, because nothing like them has ever been done before, and especially in as environmentally sensitive an area as the San Luis Valley. The sheer scale of these proposed projects is unprecedented. Other countries, such as Spain, who have permitted and built similar technologies, have nothing even close to this scale, as Spain has set a maximum limit (I believe it is 40 MW) on generating capacity. So far, the largest capacity plant of this type in Spain generates 20 MW.

Some of the areas of the Pre-Application that citizens and Lauro recognized as needing more work include: visual impact of the towers; light pollution and glare; wildlife impacts, especially to birds; safety and emergency response plans; flight patterns and FFA compliance; tower design regarding weather conditions; water use and rights; hazardous wastes; groundwater impacts; economic benefits and training and hiring of locals; wetlands; noise study; road impact study; storm water and drainage; construction and maintenance impacts; reclamation plan; bonding; and air quality and dust pollution; climate change from heat generated on site; neighborhood, and buffering of homes; wildlife and monitoring; and dust and steam pollution.  In addition, more information is needed on the explosive potential of the molten sodium and potassium nitrate salts. The economic impact on property values in the area was also discussed, as was the necessity for a Power Purchase Agreement before construction begins. In their favor, the owners have decided on an air-cooled, rather than a water-cooled system, which would still use about 300 acre/feet/year/tower of groundwater.

When asked if there was a plant of this type in existence, Adam Green, of the engineering staff of SolarReserve, said that there is not. The only facility ever built was a demonstration plant which was decommissioned, and the diagram seen on the website is not real.  Mike Spearman asked how many gallons of the molten salts would be used. No precise figure was available, but the estimate by Green is “10’s of millions of gallons”.

SolarReserve has requested time to discuss the County’s concerns with the Commissioners. This opportunity will come on Monday, November 15, at 3pm following a work session on the budget.

Tessera deadlines and Public Hearing

As mentioned above, Tessera’s application was received and accepted as complete, and now the final analysis has begun. The public can now access the application online at www.saguachecounty.net. Go to the Land Use Department to download the application and updates. If you have particular concerns or areas of expertise, please use your knowledge to comment on the application. Written comments are due, either by email or hard copy, in the Land Use Office, by November 19.

If you wish to attend the Public Hearing on December 6, the new time is from 2pm to 7pm, to allow residents who work to attend. Actual Public Comments will be taken between 5pm and 7pm, with comments from Russell Engineering being received earlier in the day. After comments are heard, the Commissioners may either approve the application that day, delay the decision until a later date in order to consider more information, or deny the application. It is unlikely that they will be prepared to act that day, and if there are still many citizens who wish to speak, they may schedule another day of comment. However, come prepared to deliver your message in a three-minute timeframe or send your comments in writing to the address on the website by November 19.

Thanks to the work of Vince and Mary Palermo, whose article on sound can be found on the Eagle’s website, www.crestoneeagle.com, the Commissioners decided to order a review of Tessera’s sound study. Nancy Lauro submitted the names of three qualified engineering firms, and the Board chose Mestre-Greve to review Tessera’s studies. They specifically requested that the studies not be re-done, but only reviewed. Since the anticipated sound levels were based on computer modeling, and the figures Tessera submitted for sound from their Maricopa site did not match those taken by the Palermo’s at the same site, I wonder how accurate the reviewed studies will be. This is only one issue with this project, so hopefully, other knowledgeable citizens will provide meaningful comments on other aspects of the application, and the Commissioners will proceed with caution.

To comment on this article, or for updates, visit www.crestoneeagle.com