Moffat County approves solar garden for Craig

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— On Tuesday, Moffat County commissioners voted to approve a solar panel garden that’s slated to be built in Craig before the end of the year, weather permitting.

The solar garden will be a collaboration between Yampa Valley Electric Association and a solar panel company called Clean Energy Collective, which has been meeting with Craig City Council since fall 2012 to decide if the proposal would work for Craig and where an optimal location would be.

Additionally, because of Senate Bill 252 — passed by the 2013 Legislature — electric companies to have 20 percent of their electricity coming from renewable energy by 2020.

The project will cost more than $1 million for Clean Energy Collective and take about six weeks. The organization wants to wrap up construction by December, but that largely will depend on weather.

While county commissioners Chuck Grobe and Tom Mathers supported the project with a “yes” vote, commissioner John Kinkaid voted “no” based on “core principles.”

The garden will be built off Moffat County Road 177 near the wastewater treatment plant and encompass about 5 acres. The solar garden will have 577 kilowatts of power, which is enough energy to power 167 standard homes.

City Council approved Clean Energy Collective’s plans in the summer so the organization could move forward to seek approval from the county. Clean Energy Collective agreed to pay the city with a 5 kW solar panel that would produce about $800 worth of energy each year.

The topic inspired a long discussion at the Moffat County Commission meeting.

Richard Miller, land manager for Clean Energy Collective, presented the project and quickly assured the commission that Clean Energy Collective was trying to change the local economy and the kilowatts produced would not be nearly enough to threaten traditionally produced power.

We are “certainly not here to compete with coal,” Miller said. “This provides an opportunity for folks who want to use solar.”

But Kinkaid was not reassured.

“A government-backed solar panel farm is a sharp stick in the eye to every coal miner and power plant worker,” he said.

Craig City Councilman Ray Beck disagreed, highlighting that consumers can choose to buy a solar panel — it’s not a mandate.

Miller insisted the project was not government funded.

“It’s all private money we’re building with,” he said.

Kinkaid said he was disappointed with the result of the county commission vote.

“If I would have voted for this solar garden, I would have been the biggest hypocrite,” he said. “Today’s vote, to me, was about core values. I wasn’t voting to do the expeditious thing. I agree there are times where you have to be pragmatic, but this isn’t one of those times.”

Mathers supported the garden, he said, because it was a privately run project.

“I was kind of against it to start with, but personal property rights, I’m big on,” he said. “There’s no government money in this. It’s just a business deal.”

The garden will be built and maintained by Clean Energy Collective, Miller said, and the benefit for consumers is that it can provide a “hedge against inflating utility costs.”

Yampa Valley Electric Association customers can opt into using the panels at a cost of about $850 per panel. If a customer were to purchase enough panels to power their house, it would take approximately eight years to make up the money through the savings on their energy bill.

“Yes, it takes a while to pay off that overall array, but on an annual basis, you’re getting 6 to 7 percent interest back,” said Todd Davidson, director of marketing for Clean Energy Collective.

Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.

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