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  • Dylan Anderson

Routt County looking to offset government energy usage with solar farm project

A pair of solar array installations — one near the Steamboat Springs Airport and another in Hayden — would generate 4.8 MW of power and the $12.5 million project could be paid for almost entirely with a tax credit and grants.

The Routt County commissioners shared a plan on Tuesday that would construct a pair of solar arrays intending to offset 100% of the energy usage of Routt County, Steamboat Springs and Hayden government buildings by 2025.

The project as currently contemplated would build one solar array near the Bob Adams Airport in Steamboat and another in Hayden that together would generate 4.8 MW of power. This would be enough power to offset government uses at the county’s new wastewater treatment plants, the city’s new fire station and Hayden’s new business park in addition to covering other government uses.

The cost of the arrays is estimated at $12.5 million currently, but officials believe that cost could be covered entirely by a tax credit created by the Inflation Reduction Act and the rest from various grant funding sources, according to a presentation shared at a joint City Council, County Commissioner meeting on Tuesday.

“In 2021 we adopted the climate action plan and embedded within the climate action plan were some actions taken towards investing in renewable energy resources,” said Commissioner Sonja Macys. “Electricity is 37% of the emissions of the climate action plan, so we decided to focus on that as a first step.”

Macys said the idea stems back to when the county was planning two new wastewater treatment plants in Milner and Phippsburg and wanted to offset that energy usage with solar power production. But a change to Yampa Valley Electric Association’s net-metering policy reduced the size that these arrays could be to a max of 25 kW, which is just a fraction of the energy used at each plant.

This made building smaller arrays at each plant less attractive to the county, as the smaller projects would have higher upkeep costs while not offsetting the total power usage. A change to YVEA’s wholesale power supplier coming in 2028 will allow for more local power generation, however, opening the door to a solar garden larger than one completed near YVEA’s Craig office.

“The other really significant thing that’s happened in the time we have been looking at this is the Inflation Reduction Act,” Macys said.

The federal law passed in 2022 has been labeled the largest investment in climate action in the country’s history and allows corporations to receive 30% tax credits for these types of projects. While governments do not pay taxes and therefore do not benefit from tax credits, the IRA allows local governments to utilize these dollars in the form of a refundable Federal Investment Tax Credit.

This project would be eligible for a 40% tax refund because Routt County is considered a coal transition community — about $5 million based on current cost estimates for the project. Those dollars would be paired with various grants identified that could theoretically cover the total cost of building the two solar arrays.

“At a 40% discount automatically, things started to pencil,” Macys said. “There’s a lot of money at the table and we would like to be there to get it.”

An initial study from the renewable energy consultant NV5 reviewed locations near Clark, Stagecoach, Hayden and the Steamboat Airport, with the latter two being ideal in part because they were expected to be impacted the least by snow cover. YVEA identified these four sites as having 3MW of hosting capacity already in place to accommodate the power generation.  

Tom Williard with NV5 said they met with YVEA to discuss the project last week. Because of the power co-ops' new power contract with Guzman Energy, Williard said they are looking to buy power from local sources such as these solar arrays. To increase the value of this energy, Williard said they could be paired with battery storage.

“We’re really in the early phases of [this project], so this is a very high-level view of the project early on,” Williard said.

There wasn’t a decision to be made on Tuesday, other than city leaders agreeing with county commissioners that this project is worth additional study. Even if grants are not able to cover the total cost of building the arrays, Commissioner Tim Corrigan noted that it may be worth putting local funding into the project to get long-term energy savings anyway.

While the project may not directly save residents money, Macys said it would significantly lower the costs that Routt County, Hayden and Steamboat Springs would need to pay for energy. Of the energy planned to be offset, Macys said roughly two-thirds of it is consumed by Steamboat’s government operations.

“If the county and the city are not spending approximately $400,000 a year on utilities, then we could do a number of things,” Macys said after the meeting. “We could invest it in other priorities of the community, we could do a renewable energy rebate to residents. … It basically saves the costs of doing business as a local government, which is what constituents are paying for.”

Top Photo Caption: Solar panels that are part for YVEA's solar garden in Craig. (Yampa Valley Electric Association/Courtesy)


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