Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tessera Solar mired in uncertainty

The Saguache County Commission has scheduled a March 10th continuance of the public hearing to review Tessera Solar's plan for a 145 MW electric power plant. 

The 1,525-acre project is the first industrial scale solar proposal to reach the permitting stage in the San Luis Valley and Colorado. After more than a year and a half, uncertainty still surrounds the controversial proposal.

The plant would be powered by 6,800 Stirling dish-engine powered SunCatchers. Unlike most solar technologies, SunCatchers produce a lot of noise.  To make matters worse, Tessera wants to build the massive power plant in a major drainage amid the northern San Luis Valley's centennial ranching community just as demand for sustainably produced, grass-fed beef is skyrocketing.

The project is hotly opposed by many Saguache County residents. The first public hearing on Dec 6th, was continued when, after more than 5 hours of deliberations, many of the 150 citizens in attendance had still not been heard.   

Saguache County notified Tessera Solar of the new hearing date in a Feb 2 letter send by Attorney Gibbons to the company's VP, Howard Taylor.  

Taylor asserted in a January letter to the County, that Tessera Solar "would expect the county to approve a SunCatcher based project that is in the size range of 50 to 100 MW" but that, "if we desired to increase the project size back to its original size of 140 to 200 MW, we must amend the 1041 application" .  He also hinted they may convert the power plant to photovoltaic (PV) or concentrated PV technology.  

Gibbon's letter clarified, "the County's final decision on the permit will be based on the [145 MW SunCatcher] application currently pending before the Board", and explained, that "if Tessera desires to change the proposed technology, a new 1041 application will be required" because it "constitute[s] a significant and substantial change in the application".

The County's letter did not address possible changes in the size of the power plant or the new sound study that Tessera is rumored to have submitted after independent reviewers determined the project could not meet state and local noise standards.

As of yesterday, Tessera had still not responded to the County.  The company has also failed to reimburse the Saguache County Land Use Department for over $9,700 in application related expenses it has incurred in processing Tessera's application.  The bills are now more than 2 months overdue.

While the County has offered to proceed with Tessera's application as soon as the company agrees to pay the outstanding bills, they have officially suspended Tessera's application "until the terms of the escrow agreement are complied with by Tessera Solar".

The financial viability of Tessera Solar has come under question since its parent company, the Dublin, Ireland investment group NTR, reorganized late last year.  More on that in our Dec 9th posting, "Is Tessera Solar Sinking?"

The hearing continuance is scheduled for 3 pm on Thursday, March 10 at the Center, CO, High School, although the hearing will be cancelled if Tessera withdraws its application.  The County has given Tessera until Jan 25th to respond.  It's uncertain if the County will convene the hearing in order to officially deny the application, as required by the 1041 regulations.

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