Pronghorn Habitats

The four maps show habitat of pronghorn antelope in the area of a proposed solar energy facility (shown in red) east of Hartsel. Top left top is winter range. Top right is winter concentration in light blue and severe winter range in dark blue. Bottom left shows migration patterns. Right is a concentration area. The county commissioners denied a wildlife habitat 1041 permit based on impacts to antelope and other wildlife July 16. (Maps from application packet prepared by ERO Resources Company).

Hartsel Solar, LLC, will not be building a solar facility 11 miles east of Hartsel.  The Park County commissioners denied a wildlife habitat 1041 permit July 16.  The public hearing was held July 9.

Hartsel Solar is listed with the Secretary of State as a foreign limited liability company.

The company, based in Irving, Texas, is part of Adani Solar USA. A contract with Xcel Energy was awarded to build solar facilities across Colorado, according to the company representative at the hearing.

Adani Solar USA is a subsidiary of India-based Adani Group, a large multinational conglomerate of industries, according to Adani’s website.

Xcel has a goal of 100 percent carbon-free energy production in Colorado by 2050, according to testimony and its website. The website said the company has a goal of 60 percent renewable energy by 2026.

Xcel testified in favor of the project and submitted a written letter.

“They couldn’t have picked a worse spot,” Commissioner Mike Brazell said during the July 16 deliberations, “… this is in the middle of an antelope severe winter range.”

Brazell said he was in favor of solar sites, and he would approve many other places in the county.

Brazell said he personally has seen hundreds of pronghorn there in the winter.

“It completely fragments their severe winter range,” Commissioner Ray Douglas said, referring to the maps in the insert.

The site covers 595 acres in Sections 30 and 31, Township 11 South and Range 73 West.

The land is zoned agriculture and is surrounded on three sides by low density residential subdivisions. Only a few have homes built, and most are second homes.

It is bordered on the south by U.S. Highway 24 and agricultural lots.

Documents that were not provided with the agenda packet included Xcel’s support letter, the staff report by County Manager Tom Eisenman, applicant comments on the staff report and the county’s expert contractor, Colorado Wildlife Science.  

ERO Resources Corporation’s report, expert consultant for the applicant, was attached to the agenda.

Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife’s report was included as part of the application.

Personnel from CPW, Park County and Eros met on the property for a pre-application meeting May 8, 2019.

ERO’s biologist evaluated the property for wildlife habitat, and animal surveys were taken on three different dates.

Ian Petash, CPW Lake George District wildlife manager, testified at the hearing and Area I Wildlife Manager Mark Lamb wrote the wildlife report and the mitigation.

Hartsel Solar incorporated most, if not all, of CPW’s mitigation into the application.

Hartsel Solar personnel also committed to buying at least 50 acres around the development to preserve herd animal habitat.

The company will work with CPW to determine the best parcels to preserve as habitat. If willing owners are found, it will purchase and place conservation easements on the properties.

This was in response to those who testified that the residential lots would be developed. With houses and the solar development, the pronghorn would have no habitat left in the area.

Petash confirmed that both antelope and mountain plover didn’t like to be around homes, due to the noise of children playing, dogs, other human activities plus reduction of the line of sight need by both species.

Discussion around impacts to 5.5 acres of wetlands and a pond revealed the company was not fencing those areas.  A 15-acre buffer of land around it would not be fenced, so wildlife could still use it.  

Fencing would be seven feet high around the perimeter of the property with two exceptions: the wetlands and a 300-foot wide wildlife corridor for antelope and other animals to move from one side of the property to the other side.

Escape ramps were incorporated into the plans so any deer or elk that jumped the fence could get out.

Elsner said they should be located in fencing corners and on all sides, not just along the fenced corridor.

Other issues addressed into the plan included mitigation of impacts to migratory birds, deer and elk.

One mountain plover nest was found on the property. Mitigation included CPW timing restrictions so nests would not be disturbed while nesting.

Petash said mountain plover need short grass prairie habitat and would not return to a nest if line of sight was restricted.

Commissioner Dick Elsner was concerned about birds thinking the panels were water and colliding with them as he had read about in other studies.

The answer was the state of the art solar arrays would be green, not blue, and they move at different angles with the sun. Both actions should deter birds from thinking water was below them, one of the company’s consultants said.

Storm runoff was another issue of concern. The company said the design would incorporate several detention ponds, plus county regulations required designs that do not allow runoff to damage neighboring properties.

When asked about the benefit to Park County residents, a company representative said Xcel serves Fairplay and Alma, so they would see a direct benefit in electrical costs.

He also said Intermountain Rural Electric Association services the rest of the county, but buys solar energy from Xcel.

He said one reason this property was chosen was that Xcel has a transmission line on the northwest corner of the property. A substation built there would tie into the transmission line and transport the electricity produced to market.

Kevin and Maria Larson own the property and testified in favor of the project. They said they are developers, but were excited about a green energy project instead of other types of developments.

Larson said the county and schools would benefit from the taxes it would generate, and it would reduce the carbon pollution from other types of energy production

Two nearby property owners testified against the project.

One said he was going to build this fall, but wouldn’t if the project was approved.  He wanted peace and quiet and to see animals.

The other lives there and said the antelope are getting used to people and come into his yard.

His concern was the visual impact and noise from the substation and dust pollution while building and from roads after building.

The company said they will use a water truck to keep dust down.

The engineer said noise would be around 50 decibels, which is 20 decibels less than the average human voice.

He was also concerned about lighting, and if snow drifts would interfere with the solar panel movements.

The third person opposed lived near Eleven Mile Reservoir. His concern was impacts to the wetlands and water runoff during big rain events. Both issues had been addressed earlier.

All three commissioners agreed July 16 that negative impacts to pronghorn antelope’s winter range, severe winter range, concentration areas and migratory paths between winter and summer habitats were the main reason they voted against the proposed development of the solar energy facility.

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