SolarReserve is still looking for a power purchase agreement (PPA), a must in order for the project to break ground.

In March, the Saguache County Commissioners granted SolarReserve, a California-based solar company, a permit to build and signed a development agreement for the construction of a 200-megawatt solar power-generating 100 percent clean energy facility north of Center. The project consists of two 100 MW 656-foot tall solar thermal power generating units based on emerging concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technology.

SolarReserve Senior Development Manager Adam Green briefed the commissioners about the project’s status on Tuesday during a work session.

“Things are moving along,” Green said. “The PPA is still the real issue now.” He said the company has shared conversations with Tri-State and Xcel, but there has been no commitment, especially since Xcel has said it is not open to signing any power purchase agreements at this time.

Green explained, however, that Xcel is in the process of reevaluating its electric resource plan. According to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), the purpose of resource planning is for the commission jurisdictional electric utilities to establish a process to determine the need for additional electric resources.

It is the commission’s policy that a competitive acquisition process will normally be used to acquire new utility resources. This process is intended to result in cost-effective resource portfolios, taking into consideration projected system needs, reliability of proposed resources, beneficial contributions of new clean energy and energy-efficient technologies, expected generation loading characteristics and various risk factors. The competitive bid process should afford all resources an opportunity to bid, and all new utility resources will be compared in order to determine a cost-effective resource portfolio.

“The utilities commission must give full consideration to innovative renewable energy,” Green said about the 250 MWs SolarReserve is seeking through the revaluation to support the project. “We are asking for a carve out, but they might not choose our specific technology.”

Although it is not a PPA, SolarReserve is seeing support from throughout the state, he said. The City of Boulder and Western Resource Advocates, a non-profit environmental law and policy organization headquartered in Boulder, have spoken in favor of the project.

“They want to see this happen,” Green said. “The Colorado Energy Office wants to see this carve out as well, but it is not supporting individual projects.”

Saguache County Commissioner Mike Spearman is also stepping up to the plate to bring attention to the project. Next month, he will join Green and testify in front of the Public Utilities Commission on behalf of the towers, hoping to influence the decision scheduled for early 2013.

“If it doesn’t turn out well, it doesn’t mean the project is over,” Green said. “We don’t have a timeline with Tri-State.”

Believing the PPA will become a reality; he said the company has continued to sort out water rights that will be heard in water court. Additionally, SolarReserve has sorted out the project property’s mineral rights in a manner as innovative as its energy. The state’s oil and gas authorities accepted their unprecedented proposal to restrict drilling to designated places.

“It has reduced the ability to drill by preclusion,” Green said. “But there is nothing of value under the surface, its just water. Drilling for anything there would be infeasible.”

SolarReserve reaches out

Based on SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes CSP project in Tonopah, Nev., the economic boost headed to the Valley looks promising, and Green is spreading the word.

Between September 2011 and July 2012, he said the Tonopah project employed 336 individual on-site construction workers, 258 full time equivalent on-site construction workers, 137 full time equivalent on-site construction workers from Nevada (73 percent) and 22 different on-site subcontractors with 20 from the state (80 percent).

A further employment breakdown revealed individual skill demands:

•83 carpenters/laborers

•39 chimney specialists specifically for tower construction

•11 electrical specialists

•11 welders

•87 ironworkers

•23 laborers

•69 operators

•8 surveyors

•4 testers

Going forward, the project will demand millwrights, boilermakers, pipefitters and I and C specialists. The expected peak on-site manpower requirements are 600 craft workers, the expected total man-hour requirements for on-site construction are 1.5 million and the expected total, indirect and induced jobs the project created is 4,300.

In accordance with the agreement between SolarReserve and Saguache County, Green brought this information to meetings with Adams State University, Trinidad State Junior College, the Alamosa Workforce Center and the Center Consolidated School District after briefing the commissioners.

The agreement includes “reasonable efforts to hire applicants” through the six Valley counties for construction jobs; a company payout of $50,000 for a one-time operational shortfall fee if there are not enough local hires; and $200,000 for local training programs to develop skills essential to the project.

In addition, the Tonopah project is forecasted to generate $37 million dollars in total tax revenue over the first 10 years of operation and it will generate in excess of $750 million in private capital cost investment in Nevada.