Saturday, July 18, 2009

Solar Power for the San Luis Valley

The San Luis Valley in Colorado is the largest alpine valley in the world covering more than 8,000 sq miles at an average altitude of around 7.500 feet. I travel through the valley every summer on my way to the Conejos river and stop frequently in Alamosa for a cheap breakfast at the lil restaurant next to the Lamplighter motel, a visit to Milagros coffee shop (internet access), the bookstore, the Conoco station, and to buy groceries. Sometimes I'll lunch at the Adam's State campus or in the city park along the Rio Grande river. It's a cool little town and the people are very friendly.

Anyhow, solar power has come to the San Luis Valley. Just outside Alamosa off Hwy 17, SunEdison has constructed the largest solar PV plant (8.22 Megawatts) in the United States supporting substation loads for a major public utility. Xcel Energy will buy renewable energy credits and the solar power generated by the Alamosa plant for 20 years. There are plans to build an additional plant with a 16 MW capacity. Combined, the two solar plants will be able to power over 7,000 homes in the valley.

In addition, I read in a local rag that Tri-State (the local electrical co-op) plans to build a solar power plant in northeastern New Mexico with a half-million state of the art photovoltaic panels that will generate 30 MW - enough to power an additional 9,000 homes. They are also investing in a 51 MW wind farm in eastern Colorado. I have heard this farm will be in the La Junta area. Both of these facilities should be in operation by the end of 2010.

It's great to see alternative energy really taking root in this area. It's good news for the San Juan Wilderness and for the trout in the Conejos and Rio Grande rivers and tributaries.

Now, the San Luis Valley is noted for its UFO sitings. Several books have been written on the subject and there is even a UFO themed campground near the new solar plant. Now the locals are saying the new solar plants will invite yet more frequent visitations. I have personally shared breakfast with two older gentlemen who swear they saw a UFO in the upper Rio Grande area. They were camping (and drinking) and about 1am saw a small object that hovered over them and lit up the entire valley with beams of light. I asked if the alcohol may have had something to do with the encounter, and they both got very serious - they admitted to drinking alot, but the fact that both of them saw it at the same time means it really happened. Anyhow, while I was passing through town there was a rumour that a bald headed alien in some kind of silver looking vehicle was spotted in the Conejos river valley. Hey, don't laugh...when the aliens come down, they will look favorable on all the bald headed men first. "Take me to your leader"

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