Aug 13, 2014 8:32 PM by Andy Koen

Pueblo solar project will be largest east of the Rockies

PUEBLO - One of the largest solar energy projects in the US is closer to becoming a reality in Pueblo. The Board of County Commissioners voted this morning to approve land use for a 120 megawatt solar farm near the Comanche Generating Station.

The project is a cooperative effort between Community Energy Solar, SunEdison and Xcel energy and will utilize as many as 450,000 photovoltaic modules producing enough power for up to 31,000 homes.

Sam Sours, Regional Development Director for Community Energy Solar said the size of the project sets is apart.

"It's a huge project for us, for Colorado, for Pueblo," Sours said. "One hundred twenty megawatts will be the largest project east of the Rockies for a photovoltaic system."

The solar modules will be manufactured by SunEdison. The company's development manager Mark Alexander said Pueblo is well suited from an engineering standpoint because of the regular sunshine and access to Xcel energy's power grid via the Comanche plant.

"Part of what makes this a workable feasible project is that we're next to one of the larger plants in Colorado, the Comanche Plant, and so our infrastructure needs are really right there," Alexander said.

It's a big win for Pueblo County which will benefit from the jobs created during the nine months of construction.

"At the peak we hope that there's as much as 300 folks that are working on the project," Sours said.

County Commissioner Sal Pace points out the company wasn't lured here by the economic development incentives.

"They're not asking for any cash handouts or tax breaks, in stark contrast they said they want to pay their full taxes and they'll start adding to the property tax rolls once they start producing energy in 2016," Pace said.

The only draw back is that none of that renewable power will be fed to homes in Pueblo. With the exception of the Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel Mill, all of Xcel's power generated in Pueblo goes over the grid to Denver. It's an arrangement Pace hopes will eventually change.

"I'm hopeful in the future we can look at Xcel providing energy to Black Hills so we can lower our energy rates here in Pueblo."

The companies hope to break ground on the project next summer.

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