Regional Solar Garden has its moment to shine

September 18, 2023

Ashley Dishman - Craig Press

Mayor Derek Duran billed it as a “great day” for Craig and the Yampa Valley. Local and regional community leaders and guests gathered on Sept. 8 to dedicate the newly constructed Yampa Valley Regional Solar Garden. Collaboration was a key component of the project’s success, according to the event’s speakers.

During his opening remarks at the ceremony, Duran noted that the idea for the project grew from a 2019 conversation that included, among others, Craig City Manager Peter Brixius and City Councilman Chris Nichols. Not long after that conversation occurred, Craig leaders learned that there was similar interest from Steamboat Springs in pursuing solar energy development, which led to the formation of a regional working relationship between Moffat and Routt Counties, as well as the communities of Craig, Hayden, Steamboat Springs and Yampa. The group sought the assistance of the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) for funding the project. DOLA funded the initial feasibility study for the project and ultimately awarded $2.265 million to the project.

DOLA Executive Director Rick Garcia took a moment to recognize the effort from the community and local leadership that made the project possible. He noted that a regional renewable clean energy program such as the Yampa Valley project was “a leap of faith” for DOLA and their energy impact assistance fund program, which hasn’t traditionally been focused on clean energy. But he was impressed with how the Yampa region “stepped up collectively and said we can do this” in a situation where many other communities either wouldn’t or couldn’t put in that effort. Garcia promised that DOLA’s commitment to the region will continue, offering his “absolute hearty congratulations” on the completion of the project and sharing that “(DOLA) is with you. We support you.” Duran also recognized the significant work of the Yampa Valley Electric Association (YVEA) and its president, Steve Johnson. Duran stated that the project “would not have happened without the vision of YVEA and its leadership.” Johnson spoke about YVEA’s role in the process and his optimism for the future of the community. In describing the project as a “foundational” starting point, Johnson noted that “this first project is really a beacon of collaboration amongst all of us to really move the renewable needle forward.” The solar project is owned and managed by Ameresco, the company selected by the regional partnership via a bid process to develop the solar garden in late 2020. Executive Vice President Lou Maltezos reiterated that the completion of the project was a credit to community and regional collaboration. Maltezos also commented that the installation “marks an exciting time for clean energy as the largest solar array in the Yampa Valley region to date.” Situated on 20 acres directly east of the YVEA office, the 4 MW-MC array features bifacial solar panels and single-axis tracker racking for maximum electricity generation. The panels will rotate throughout the day, following the sun. It is anticipated to generate 9.6 million kWh annually to the Yampa Valley region over the next 20 years. Over the course of the next two decades, the installation is also expected to offset 130,321 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to 29,000 passenger vehicles driven for one year or the electricity use of 25,357 homes for one year. The solar installation is currently scheduled to go live in October.