The molten salt storage provides a buffer, capturing and storing thermal energy when the sun is shining or during cloudy and overcast days in a process that is decoupled from electricity generation.

One week shy of the 1041 permit application decision deadline, the Saguache County Commissioners passed a motion, two to one, allowing SolarReserve, a California-based solar company, to pursue construction of a 200-megawatt solar power-generating 100 percent clean energy facility north of Center consisting of two 100 MW 656-foot tall solar thermal power generating units based on emerging concentrating solar-thermal power technology.

The commissioners had to make a decision to approve, deny or ask for an extension on the 1041 permit application by April 2, which was 60 days after the public hearing. Yesterday’s decision cancels the special meeting scheduled for next Monday at 2 p.m. The development agreement and resolution will be signed during the commissioners’ regular meeting on Tuesday, April 3 at 1 p.m.

Saguache County Commissioners Mike Spearman and Sam Pace voted to approve the 1041 permit application, an attached list of 10 conditions and development agreement and Commissioner Linda Joseph voted not in favor.

“We had another week,” Joseph said after the meeting. “It would have been in the county’s best interest to get more information prior to approval.”

When it came to vote on Pace’s motion to approve, Joseph wanted the county to take advantage of SolarReserve’s offer to pay for an experienced industrial or 1041 permit application external legal review of the development agreement.

“We had said that we would consult,” Joseph said. “This is a test to see if we can do this and integrate it to everybody’s satisfaction. It is going in the middle of the Valley.”

In addition, the commissioner voted no because a preamble was not drafted and included in the motion.

After negotiating with the county for nearly two years, the 1041 application permit gives SolarReserve the ability to obtain a power purchase agreement, which is needed before the project is funded and ground is broken.

“We are talking with the major utilities,” said SolarReserve Project Manager Adam Green after the approval. “Having a permit in hand makes this a real project. This is a huge step forward. This would be an incredible project with jobs and water savings in one of the best places on Earth for solar power.”

Before approving the project, the commissioners reviewed the final development agreement and 1041 permit application conditions.

Spearman continued his fight for guaranteed local jobs, and was able to find a common ground with the company.

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

“We have to give local people the opportunity to be trained when the jobs come,” Spearman said. “You have to interview them. They deserve a shot. There is no excuse for not having a 100 percent local workforce.”

The commissioner has already been talking with Trinidad State Junior College and San Luis Valley Development Resources Group Director Mike Wisdom about creating a training and testing programs.

Although there were few, public comments were received before the motion passed.

“There is no reason to hurry,” said Ron Briggs, a Cool Valley property owner who is adamantly against the project. “Stop and think about things for a few days before making a decision.”

The decision was made and now SolarReserve has agreed to provide $175,000 for a Visitor Information Center (VIC) in the town of Center; furnish an annual VIC operating budget of $50,000 for a period of four years, starting when the first tower begins drawing revenue; and provide signs on the highways and in the town of Center.

Other project benefits include $425,000 annual property taxes; voluntarily reducing water use at the site; bringing 50 full time jobs per tower to Saguache County; and hiring 40 percent Saguache County residents for operational jobs.

The project consists of approximately 4,000 acres of a larger 6,200-acre area of privately owned county land located north of Center between Saguache County Roads D and G and 53 and 57.

It is anticipated that the project will be completed in two phases, with commercial operation dates no earlier than June 1, 2014, and June 1, 2015, respectively. The project will deliver power to the grid by connecting to the existing 230kV transmission line.

The project is based on concentrating solar-thermal power generation technology that concentrates the sun’s rays, heating a working fluid (molten salt) that captures and stores the heat. Heat is used separately to create steam to drive a conventional turbine-generator to produce electricity. The proposed concentrating solar-thermal power technology uses heliostats (tracking mirrors) arranged in a roughly circular array around a central tower to focus sunlight onto a thermal receiver at the top of the tower.

The molten salt storage provides a buffer, capturing and storing thermal energy when the sun is shining or during cloudy and overcast days in a process that is decoupled from electricity generation. The stored thermal energy allows the generator to produce electricity when needed to meet demand on the electricity grid, not only when the sun is shining.