Sun-drenched Pueblo’s quest for a large solar farm has finally paid off.
Xcel Energy and renewable energy developer Community Energy of Boulder on Tuesday announced plans to build the state’s largest solar farm — and the largest east of the Rockies — near Xcel’s Comanche power plant and substation.
The solar farm will cover 900 acres of privately owned land.
It will feature more than 450,000 small solar panels that move in tandem to track the sun as it crosses the sky. The electricity generated will be equal to the power used by 31,000 homes, according to the developer. Xcel’s main customer base is the Denver area.
The project will take about 15 months to build with construction set to begin by late this year or early next year, pending land-use approval by Pueblo County government. The start date for operations is tentatively set for summer 2016.
The number of construction jobs tied to the project remains to be finalized, the developer says.
The final project cost is undetermined but in excess of $200 million, the developer says.
“This project is part of our vision begun in 2010 to bring utility scale solar at a competitive price to Front Range Colorado,” Eric Blank, president of Community Energy’s solar division, said in a statement.
“We were drawn to Pueblo County and the Comanche substation as a great combination of high solar insolation, a welcoming community with open land and a strong interconnection point” to the Front Range’s electricity grid, he said.
In a telephone interview Tuesday morning, Blank reiterated the company’s yearslong interest in Pueblo and the building site. “We just really liked a number of things about it . . . It just seems a really nice match.”
The announcement comes five years after Pueblo County leaders responded to the nation’s call for more solar energy by launching a campaign marketing Pueblo as a prime spot for solar development.
Key selling points are the area’s 300 days of sunshine per year and its location on the Front Range grid.
Initially, utilities and the solar industry — along with federal and state government officials — opted to focus in Colorado on the San Luis Valley but that push has slowed over the need to build a transmission line to link with the Front Range grid.
The Pueblo site is near the electricity substation at the Comanche power plant, which provides a “strong interconnection point with existing infrastructure close to Front Range load centers,” Blank noted.
The company says the location offers other benefits: It is under-utilized grazing land surrounded by existing and future industrial users; and the land also is gently sloping that will require minimal grading to prepare it for the solar installation.
The solar farm will ultimately be comprised of more than 450,000 mono-crystalline PV modules utilizing a single-axis tracking technology, the company says.
The tracking technology follows the sun as it rises in the east and sets in the west, producing power during Xcel Energy’s peak demand periods and generally providing a nice match to daily summer air conditioning loads, the company says.
Over the course of its 25-year life, the project will produce more than 6 billion kilowatt hours of solar energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 3.5 million tons, the company says.
Pueblo County Economic Development Director Chris Markuson called the project a “huge win for our community” and a “tremendous shot in the arm for our local economy.”
“This project demonstrates that renewable energy is ready for prime time and Pueblo County is perfectly positioned to be the center of utility-scale renewable energy production in Colorado,” Markuson said in a statement. “The clean energy produced by solar arrays in Pueblo is both profitable and sustainable while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
David Eves, president and CEO of Public Service Co. of Colorado, a part of Xcel Energy, issued a statement noting the project continues Xcel’s efforts to diversify its energy portfolio.
“We believe strongly that solar is for everyone and it is clear that many of our customers and fellow Colorado citizens share our passion for solar energy,” Eves said.
“This large-scale generating facility provides the advantage of renewable energy at a price that is right. Solar energy is a part of our future and we want to make sure that solar energy policy encourages the development of solar technology.”
Community Energy formed in 1999 and is based in Radnor, Pa., with a Western region office in Boulder. The company has led the development and construction of more than 800 megawatts of wind and solar generating facilities.
The company’s website is communityenergysolar.com.