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Sand Dunes Solar Project public meeting shines light on local concerns

Posted Mar 22, 2024

Courier photo by John Waters Georgi Velkov (left) and Michael Klein (right) representatives from the proposed Sand Dunes Solar Project, a 1000-acre solar farm in Saguache County at a public meeting the company held in Saguache on March 19.

SAGUACHE — At a public meeting at the Saguache Community Center on Tuesday, March 19, Georgi Velkov and a phalanx of five other representatives of the proposed Sand Dunes Solar Project met with about forty residents.

The project owners are Horus Energy/Horus Capital, a London-based private equity firm proposing to build a 170MW solar farm on 1,000 acres about five miles southwest of Moffat in Saguache County. Horus owns about half of the land with the remainder owned by a private party.

At the outset of the meeting, project representative Jeremy Call asked the audience, "How many of you came tonight with healthy skepticism?" Several people raised their hands. During the meeting, many of those in the audience expressed deep skepticism, especially regarding the effects the project may have on wildlife. "One thing that we hope to dismiss right away, is fear from skepticism," said Call.

Early, Call claimed, "We have done extensive studies to locate the project and find property that is not in highly critical [wildlife] habitat." Call also went on to discuss threatened and endangered species when he was interrupted by a very skeptical audience member questioning the impact the solar farm will have on wildlife. Another in the audience stated, "I don't know if you understand the herd mentality of the elk... it takes very minimal activity to upset this balance...those elk are not going to have their calves there and if they don't have their calves there, they are probably going to die."

One audience member expressed his concerns about the impacts the facility will have on sandhill cranes.

Call was then asked several more questions from the audience all asking about wildlife. Call said that wildlife corridors would be studied.

As the meeting progressed, the representatives from Horus responded to a variety of questions from the audience on numerous subjects.

The electricity produced by the project will be exported out of the San Luis Valley. A Power Purchase Agreement to facilitate this has not been finalized. The website for the project states, "Sand Dune is expected to execute an interconnection agreement with PSco [Public Service Colorado] in 2026, with construction to begin that year and operations by mid-2028."

Christine Canaly, Director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council who was present for the meeting, told the Valley Courier, "It appears, SDP did their homework with the citing of their project, between two transmission lines, collecting baseline on the hydrology and soils, avoiding wildlife corridor activity and placing the spacing of the panels to discourage attracting avian (bird) populations, is all good stewardship. It's encouraging to see companies looking for a win/win and minimizing impact."

Adam Kinney, who is a candidate for the Saguache County Board of Commissioners representing the Crestone Area, said, "I was very happy to see people from each district turn out to learn more and express their concerns and ideas.

"I think there is a viable opportunity here for the county to explore possible solar projects that could benefit the residents, with the understanding that environmental protections are put in place. I hope the commissioners will do their jobs and negotiate the best possible financial outcome for Saguache County, including the adjacent neighbors who are concerned about the two-year construction cycle affecting their livelihoods.

"The developers proposed a $13 million tax benefit to the county, over 20 years. That is $650K a year, which won't even pave a mile of road. I'd like to see more money for the county. Considering the project investment of $250 million, I imagine the return will be substantial, and this should be part of the ongoing negotiations."

Company documents state, "An economic impact study for Saguache County is in progress. However, equivalent size projects being developed by Horus in Colorado are estimated to bring in $13 million in taxes in the first 20 years of operation." In 2024, the Saguache County Budget was $24.7 million.

During the meeting, the number of people employed at the proposed facility was discussed, and Velkov offered, "As an estimate up to 1,500 roughly for the development of that site." That number includes off-site jobs created by the project. Michael Klein, who will oversee construction, offered that at the peak of employment, "That workforce ramps up to about 250 people." A document handed out to the public includes, "Projects of this size are expected to provide approximately 2,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction and operational phase."

Velkov said an economic analysis of the project will have is underway. The Valley Courier will make the study public when it is available.

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