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West Slope Large Scale Industrial Solar: Dangerous Developments and Lack of Safety Measures

Dear Mesa County Citizens, Members of the Press and Mesa County Board of Commissioners,

    We, Concerned Citizens of Mesa County, state for the record that those in charge of the political processes regarding  commercial solar development and the risks they pose to the Grand Valley have not been transparent to the community who are directly affected. Furthermore, the safety of our citizens, our agriculture and our tourism is being placed in peril. 

It’s clear that a CORA request will occur after this process has finished and it will not reflect well on our County Commissioners.

Mesa County Planning Department has worked closely with both Solar reps and citizens during many public forums to create a drafted amendment for the Land Development Code that regulates solar development. 

During these public meetings, there were no experts of any kind consulted outside of the solar developers themselves. Despite this obvious oversight a new Code was developed by the planning department.

The drafted code that went before the Planning Commission on March 21 did not address the concerns of the community.

The Planning Commission suggested that several areas of the LDC amendment be changed to address their concerns. Many of their concerns were the same as those expressed by Concerned Citizens in the community letter sent to the BoCC, et.al. on March 12. That letter is in the public record. 

A briefing was held on March 25 with the BoCC to look at the drafted LDC amendment and review the suggestions by the Planning Commission. For reasons unknown, this meeting was not recorded and no minutes taken.

After the BoCC briefing, the planning department ignored some of those suggestions and actually changed a key protection that had been written into the LDC amendment. The results were shocking: 

1)   The BoCC decided that the loophole existing in fire protection for the high-voltage electrical facilities will not be addressed. This means that the elected Commissioners have decided that any large-scale solar utility developed on parcels outside of an incorporatedfire protection district will need not be held to the International Fire Code standards regarding general fire safety.  Many acres of land are not under the jurisdiction of an incorporated fire district, and high-voltage electricity plants will be allowed to develop there without fire regulation or oversight.

2)   Despite pleas from the community, acquiescence from COSSA (Colorado Solar and Storage Association) and urging from their own Planning Commission – the Commissioners decided that there will not be a bond required to ensure that decommissioning of commercial-scale solar facilities occur in a safe and thorough manner. All language around bond requirements (3/22 version Section CC.2.h) were removed after the March 25 meeting with the BoCC. 

3)   A new loophole was created in the LDC amendment after the March 25 BoCC meeting that is most concerning. The LDC amendment that went in front of the Planning Commission specified the difference between a “behind the meter” and an “in front of the meter” system. “Behind the meter” being defined as electricity produced primarily for the use of the residential/commercial/agricultural establishment where the development is located, and “in front of the meter” being defined as electricity produced to be sold for profit. Every person involved in creating the LDC amendment agreed that there should be few restrictions on “behind the meter” developments – as it is the right of the consumer to offset their electric costs with solar development.  We all agreed that restrictions should focus primarily on large utility-scale production of electricity to be sold into the “grid” solely for profit. 

The 3-member BoCC overruled that differentiation when it comes to any “agrivoltaic” system.  Result: if you can perform any type of agricultural production on your land, you can now also develop any size solar utility plant as your land will fit – even hundreds of acres. In addition, agrivoltaics are exempt from height restrictions. You can sell that electricity straight into the grid for profit.

They also demanded the loosening of definition on “agrivoltaics.”  The original LDC amendment specified that there had to be agricultural production occurring on the land alongside the electrical production. After the Commissioners’ changes, “agrivoltaics” can now be defined by as little as having a cow in a field or a couple tomato plants alongside tens of thousands of panels. 

This decision undermines the entire agriculture industry of our valley. How many farmers will allow their fields to stop producing in order to fill them with highly profitable (and zero-labor) electrical panels? This loophole is disastrous and must be addressed by returning the LDC language around “agrivoltaics” to its original form. That original language was carefully drafted by the input of many– only to be thrown out by 3 politically motivated commissioners.

Please write to our elected Commissioners and let them know that:

1) The community is aware that they have undermined our agricultural heritage which will prove fatal to our unique economy, landscape and tourism industry 

2) We demand the increased fire risks inherent in high-voltage electricity production be addressed for every development, not just those conveniently located within an incorporated fire district. 

3) We demand that they put back the decommissioning bond which ensure we are not left with junkyards of thousands of glass and aluminum panels across the county when the lifespan of the utility plant is over.

               With the new LDC code – large solar utility plants will be allowed in every single land zone in Mesa County. This is non-negotiable and mandated by Governor Polis’ green energy legislation. Our Board of County Commissioners cannot dictate where solar is developed. They do, however, have the power to say how development can take place – urge them to set aside their political aspirations for a moment and attend to the health and safety of our community as a whole. 

    Please add this letter to the public record. 

Sincerely,

Jason and Rhiannon Lawson
Nina Hutchins
Cully and Krista Murphy
Jeff Berino
Nina Hutchins
Elaine and Dan Johnson
Christine Murphy
Wendy and Todd Videlock
Gail Simmons Evans
and other Concerned Citizens of Mesa County