Across the United States and around the world, the question of how to meet energy demands in a clean, efficient, and cost-effective manner has become one of the most pressing of the new millennium. Scientists worldwide have acknowledged the occurring climate crisis, despite a handful of vocal neigh-sayers. Many communities are seeing the negative impacts of gas and oil development, as well as the devastating effects of coal-fired power production. Even the industry’s assertion that there is such a thing as clean-coal is riddled with problems. The United States and many countries around the world recognize the need to change the way we produce, store, and deliver energy.
The Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, in a report published in 2008, identified the San Luis Valley as a prime location for solar development in the state of Colorado. The San Luis Valley has clear skies, cool temperatures and a high elevation at over 7,000 feet, and 1-3% gradient slopes on the Valley floor, making it a very favorable location for development of large-scale solar facilities.
In 2007, Sun Edison built a solar photovoltaic plant near Mosca, Colorado, and power generation from this facility was higher than projected. Sun Edison has also developed PV plants for Alamosa High School and the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center. Since then two more solar electric plants have been built in the Mosca-Hooper area and another plant has just been granted a permit to build.
This type of energy production, which is small-scale, distributed, and does not require large-scale transmission, is one example of how energy demands can be met. (See The Nation: Think Solar, Think Small and Rocky Mountain Institute Newsletter: Small is Profitable). Germany has incorporated many similar types of facilities into their basic infrastructure, and despite the fact that they receive only 58% of the sunlight as the Southwest, they are able to meet many of their energy demands.
Industrial Scale or Concentrated Solar Plants, on the other hand, produce energy on a large-scale. They require some type of additional power to keep the energy flowing even when the sun is not shining, and they usually require the construction of high-voltage transmission lines to deliver the energy to areas of need. Most of the CSP plants currently in operation use large amounts of water (see table). Many citizens believe that caution must be exercised for the San Luis Valley, where water issues have been a topic of concern for years. Sandia Laboratories, in New Mexico, is experimenting with Stirling Engine technology to address this concern.
Geothermal resource development is another example of a renewable energy source. This science taps into the heat available from magma masses below the earth surface using water as the transfer agent. Surface emanations of hotsprings are obvious indicators of hot water and caution must be excersized when developing thermal operations so as not to jeopardize naturally occuring features. SLV Ecosystem Council has responded for requested comments in a recent draft BLM Environmental Assessment of geothermal potential in the SLV.
SLVEC is very involved and committed in the process of renewable energy potentials evaluation. We recently submitted comments (See also Sand Hill Crane Distribution) to the Bureau of Land Management on four public lands areas in the SLV that have been identified as possible sites for large-scale solar development. (See BLM Map). We believe that is crucial to protect the water, public lands, and natural resources in the San Luis Valley, and that any large-scale development should address these concerns.
The debate about how best to address these energy issues is happening around the country. A major consideration is the location and capacity of electrical transmission lines in respect to distribution and channeling generating sources that have not previously been on line. The problems and costs associated with the construction of high-voltage transmission lines are of concern to many. A proposal for Green Path North, a transmission line that would travel 85 miles and cross the Mojave Desert in southern California, has drawn tremendous opposition from local residents and environmental groups. The Energy Justice Network has produced educational materials about transmission lines, including the problems with electromagnetic fields, and keeps track of transmission line proposals around the country and in Canada.
The San Luis Valley is facing the same issue. The SLV is a prime location for solar development and some developers wish to create a major electrical generation zone here but need upgraded or new high voltage transmission lines for this to happen. Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission have proposed the construction of a 95-mile, double circuit 230 kV transmission line from Alamosa to Walsenburg. This line would cross La Veta Pass, and would be visible from Highway 160. (See Proposed Transmission Corridor Map).
SLVEC is working closely with the Citizens for San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition to address the concerns associated with the construction of this line. We formed a Solar Working Group, and met on a regular basis to discuss future actions. (See Position Paper)
Xcel formally pulled its support of the La Veta Pass corridor line in 2011 and the recent donation of a conservation easement on 90,000 acres by Louis Bacon, owner of the Blanca Trinchera Ranch through which miles of transmission lines were proposed, makes construction of this particular segment doubtful.
Tri-State and SLV Rural Electric Coop have recently announced (January, 14, 2013) a proposal to construct a high voltage line hooking into New Mexico from Antonito. Click here for the most recent press release . This reveals that the La Veta Pass route is no longer being considered as a current possibility.
SLVEC works to protect the public lands involved in all aspects of renewable energy development, and to protect the biological resources, ecosystems and natural diversity of the San Luis Valley.
SLV Solar/Transmission line Alternatives and Redundancy recommendations compiled by: The San Luis Valley Solar/Transmission Work Group in cooperation with the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and Citizens for San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition196.17 KB
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Map of Proposed Transmission Lines
Designating Energy Corridors on Federal Land
Xcel Seeks Bids on World's Biggest Solar Project
SLV Solar Symposium - Questionaire
Proposed Section 368 Energy Corridors - Colorado - Map - CAUTION: Very large file
Rocky Mountain Institute Newsletter - Small is Profitable
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The Nation: Think Solar, Think Small
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A Smart Grid, yes. A new national grid, no.
Federal Transmission Bill 3-09