by Matie Belle Lakish
Tessera Solar, LLC has withdrawn its application to build a massive array of SunCatchers on 1500 acres southeast of Saguache. On July 11, Saguache County Commissioners received a letter, by email, from Tessera’s Brent Bailey, Vice-President and General Counsel. The message included the following: “Tessera has had ongoing reviews of the proposed project over the last several months on the overall feasibility of the proposed project.” … “Following the most recent review we have determined not to proceed with this permit application further and we wish to respectfully withdraw the project application from further consideration by the Commissioners.”  The many people in Saguache County who had been opposing the installations of such a large (and loud) industrial project, breathed a sigh of relief when they heard the news.
When Tessera’s representative first presented the SunCatcher and Stirling engine idea to local residents at the Crestone Energy Fair in 2009, a number of residents were excited about the prospect of generating power from the sun locally. But when the scale of the project became known, and citizens learned that none of the power would be used locally, they began to question it. The company was generous enough to invite all three commissioners as well as several citizens to visit their demonstration site in Arizona. During that visit sound measurementswere taken and it became clear that the Stirling engines, which sit at the focal point of a 40-foot diameter dish, were very noisy.
In order to keep the sound levels at the property line within legal limits of 55 decibels, the number of SunCatchers would have had to be cut and the power generated subsequently reduced. Although no reason was given for the application having been withdrawn, there is speculation that the reduction in generating capacity that would have resulted made the project financially un-feasible. Another factor in the decision might have been the lack of a Power Purchase Agreement, or a contract to buy power by one of the large power companies.
Although adjoining ranchers and homeowners opposed the project, as well as others concerned about the size and the noise, many area citizens supported the project as a way to create jobs and a revenue stream for the county. When asked to comment on the withdrawal by Matt Hildner of the Pueblo Chieftain, Board Chair Sam Pace said, “I think they felt it was going to be hard to meet the State noise statutes and put in a facility that was going to be economically viable at the present location.” However, he added, “We definitely do need the economic development.”
Tessera has other technologies available, including a Concentrated Photovoltaic technology that could be more acceptable in the Valley. Tessera’s letter did not rule out a future application using a different technology.