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El Paso County commissioners OK rezoning for proposed solar farm

April 25, 2018 Updated: April 25, 2018 at 4:56 pm
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El Paso County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to grant a rezoning necessary for the construction of the Front Range-Midway Solar Energy Project, a roughly 1,100-acre solar energy farm planned for south of the Pikes Peak International Raceway and east of Fort Carson. AP file photo.

El Paso County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to grant a rezoning necessary for the construction of the Front Range-Midway Solar Energy Project, a roughly 1,100-acre solar energy farm planned for south of the Pikes Peak International Raceway and east of Fort Carson.

Kansas-based Tradewind Energy still must submit a site development plan for the county's approval before the company is able to build the 100-megawatt solar installation, said company project manager Dave Iadarola.

Whether any of that energy would go to local homes remains unclear. The solar farm will likely connect with either the Public Service Company or the Western Area Power Administration supply systems, which have existing substations on the property. Neither company has committed to buying the energy that would be generated, although a power purchase agreement must be finalized before Tradewind can apply for a site development plan, Iadarola said.

Colorado Springs Utilities will soon issue a request for proposals for renewable power purchases, and if Tradewind responds with a bid, Utilities would consider the company's proposal, said Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad.

In September, the Utilities board approved expanding its energy portfolio to include about 100 more megawatts of solar power.

Utilities is negotiating contracts with two other providers that could provide a total of about 95 megawatts of solar power through two projects, Trinidad said.

"We're looking for the best deal at the best rate," said Trinidad, who declined to identify the providers because the agreements aren't finalized.

A megawatt of solar energy can power about 280 homes for a year, Trinidad has said.

Iadarola said Tradewind hopes to begin construction on the Midway solar farm later this year or early 2019. Construction would take about six to eight months, he said.

The project would likely come with an added benefit: road upgrades for area residents.

Tradewind plans to donate to the local public improvement district if the company is able to build the solar installation. The company is still determining exactly how much it would contribute to the district, Iadarola said.

Local roads would also be improved during construction, he said.

Residents of the Pioneer Village Roads Public Improvement District, which was voted into existence in 2013 to maintain and upgrade the neighborhood's infrastructure, have long struggled with dirt roads that turn to mud when it rains.

"As you know, we've kind of been left high and dry out there, and this has really been quite a godsend for us," area resident Tami West, chairwoman of the district, told commissioners while speaking in support of the project at commissioners' Tuesday meeting.

The project site is mostly made up of privately-owned parcels that the company has either bought or gotten permission to use. Tradewind would pay the county to lease about 120 acres in a subdivision "buffer zone" adjacent to Fort Carson.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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