Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Solar Vision Needed

The following essay was originally excerpted from a comment letter written by Chuck and Barb Tidd to the Saguache County Commissioners.  It's been edited by the administrator for readers who are new to SLV renewable issues and the final result is a bit of an accidental collaboration.  In any case, it gives voice to what many are thinking.

It's sad that the leadership of Saguache County seems to have no more regard for the pristine quality of the place we live than to subject it to the kind of environmental degradation that is being contemplated by the massive and precedent setting industrial Solar Reserve and Tessera Solar developments.

In the case of Tessera Solar, our Valley's nationally recognized sound scape will be sacrificed for a considerable distance in the vicinity of the project.  Not only that, it puts the surrounding ranch community at risk, including Blue Range Ranch, one of the Valley's premier organic certified, grass-fed beef operations.   This, at a time when demand for their local, sustainably raised product is skyrocketing.

In the case of Solar Reserve, the view-shed will be interrupted by two 650-foot tall power towers topped by large light beacons that will be visible over nearly the entire valley.

The first impression of visitors to the San Luis Valley will no longer be the beauty of the mountains or the inspiring vastness of the landscape.  No, the first comment will be “Huh?......what's that noise? What's that towering light?”

But it's not just that one project will dominate the view shed or drown out our world-class quietude. What precedents do these projects set for Saguache County and the San Luis Valley and what do they say about the level of degradation we will tolerate for the industrial mining of our sunlight?

We need vision and leadership to develop our solar resources in a way that enhances, rather than degrades, the existing environment and economic and social ecology.

The county should place a moratorium on any new 1041 applications for concentrated solar and other industrial renewable energy developments until they can adequately study and make concrete recommendations for specific projects that don't take away more than they give. Then the county should follow up by extending Requests for Proposals to undertake these specific projects identified as being most worthy, compatible and appropriate.

For example, why are we not now actively soliciting and encouraging:

a) small-scale distributed (1-50 MW/200-300 acre), low profile, community based public/private partnerships for photovoltaic installations on pivot corners, commercial buildings and lands that are not currently or will soon be taken out of production?

b) low or no interest loans to establish value added businesses that create jobs and maximize the return on our existing agricultural products, e.g. beef processing or grain products. These can be funded using bond programs based on the anticipated tax revenues.

As you consider these two massive industrial solar proposals, remember - you are not just deciding about one project. You are deciding the future of Saguache County and the San Luis Valley. Will your decisions preserve what is a disappearing gem in this country – the peace and unspoiled beauty of the land we live in?  Such an objective is not incompatible with development done right. The alternative is an industrial wasteland that will render this place unrecognizable in 50 years. It's your decision. It's your responsibility. It's what you will be remembered for.