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New solar array has its day

The sun was shining on a gathering of business and government leaders Thursday as they turned over dirt east of the Comanche Generating Station and celebrated renewable energy’s bright future in Pueblo.

Construction work on the massive, 120-megawatt Comanche Solar project already is underway but the event memorialized the start of a project that will bring the largest solar array east of the Rocky Mountains to Pueblo County.

Paul Gaynor, executive vice president of SunEdison, told the crowd that

Thursday’s event was another example of how renewable energy is no longer about “a lot of pony tails and flip flops” and that now, especially in Colorado, solar energy is a competitive choice for utilities looking at expanding their capacity.

“It’s totally changed,” Gaynor said. “We’re just at the beginning of more projects like this in the state and the world.”

David Eves, president of Public Service of Colorado, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, said the Pueblo project is crucial to the company’s plans to triple the amount of large-scale solar projects in Colorado by the end of 2016.

“This project is the lion’s share of that,” he said.

Eves recognized that while Xcel doesn’t provide electricity to Pueblo, the project remains a major investment to the city and county.

“We’re very happy to continue to be partners and support the growth of Southern Colorado,” he said.

Joshua Epel, chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, noted that solar power in Colorado, where there’s an abundance of sunshine, is a safe bet and the project represents a commitment to diversity in Colorado’s sources of power.

In related news, Google and solar panels.

“It’s a hedge against increases in gas prices and it’s a hedge against the volatility of fossil fuels,” he said.

The project will employ about 370 construction workers on site and, at the low end, generate $600,000 annually in property tax revenues.

Once up and running, it’s expected to employ roughly six people.

But state Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, also noted that SunEdison and Xcel will partner with Pueblo City Schools (D60) to bolster the STEM curriculum at Central High School by allowing students to examine the technology and exposing them to the fields that are applied there, such as electrical engineering.

State Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, said the project was an opportunity to create construction jobs in the state.

Jeff Ackerman, director of the Colorado Energy Office noted that “historically, Pueblo was the backbone of Colorado” based on its production of steel and electricity for the rest of the state.

Now, he said, the city and county are coming to the forefront of renewable energy.

The project will spread 450,000 photovoltaic panels across two sites near the Comanche plant. The electricity generated by those panels will be enough to power 31,000 homes and will feed into Xcel existing infrastructure nearby.

Rob Morgan, chief strategy officer for contractor RES Americas, said at the peak of construction about 6,000 panels will be installed each day.

Morgan said the company will do its best to pull from the local labor pool to do the work.

Pueblo Board of County Commissioners Chairwoman Liane “Buffie” McFadyen talked about the competing ideas of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison and compared that to the competition over power generation, from solar to wind, coal, hydro and natural gas.

“Not only is it a good thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

This article was written by Jeff Tucker from The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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