May 20, 2023 – Coyote Gulch

The canals of the San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article about Big Pivot website (Allen Best):

Colorado plans to investigate a combination of solar panels and canals and reservoirs. Could Incorporating Solar Power into Agriculture Solve the San Luis Valley’s Water Problems?

Agrivoltatics (the fusion of solar power and agricultural production), though more abstract than real, is creeping into people’s consciousness. There is little to see in Colorado other than Jack’s Solar Garden near Longmont.

Aquavoltics? Any ideas for installing solar panels on water? It’s thin as well. You have to go to North Park to see the solar panels above Walden’s small water treatment pond.

SB23-092, Bill passed on the last day of the 2023 Colorado legislature, [ed. Signed by Governor Polis May 18, 2023] I order a study of both concepts. In the case of hydroelectric power, a bill on the desk of Gov. Jared Polis asked the Colorado Water Conservation Commission to consider the feasibility of installing solar panels on top of irrigation canals and reservoirs, or floating them on water. authorized to investigate. The bill also authorizes the State Department of Agriculture to award grants to new or ongoing agrivoltaic demonstration projects.

Yet another section calls for the Colorado Department of Agriculture to consult with relevant state agencies and begin to consider how farmers and ranchers can be integrated into carbon markets. Its specific mandate is to “explore opportunities for greenhouse gas sequestration in the agricultural sector, including the use of dry digesters, and the feasibility of creating and providing certified greenhouse gas offset programs and credit instruments.” be.

In some cases, Democrats and Republicans raged at each other, but in this case there was widespread sympathy. Democrats’ primary sponsors were from Denver and Boulder counties, and Republicans from the San Luis Valley and Delta. The vote was skewed in favor.

The Agrivortax idea was originally included in the 2022 session in a big suitcase of ideas sponsored by Democratic Senator Chris Hansen of Denver. I was just one step away from crossing the finish line.

Senator Clive Simpson, a Republican from the San Luis Valley, whose constituency now spans southwest Colorado, showed keen interest this summer, and with good reason. A 4th generation from the San Luis Valley, his day job is General Manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. To help Colorado comply with the Rio Grande Accords with New Mexico and Texas, farmers in the district need to reduce their water use. It will be a difficult challenge. And he’s trying to find ways to keep the community as financially healthy as possible.

The canal, in the South Platte Valley, north of Denver and east of Firestone, could also be a place for solar panels to be installed without compromising agricultural productivity.Photography/Allen Best

However, the Aquavolta idea is new to this year’s bill.

Hansen, who grew up along the edge of the declining Ogallala Aquifer in Kansas, said after studying water conservation efforts around the world that hydropower is one of the most lucrative ways to reduce evaporation from canals and reservoirs. said it was found to be In an interview in April, he said doing so with solar panels would create “a huge number of multiple streams of value.”

He explained that covering the water can reduce evaporation by 5% to 10%, and that cooler water makes the solar panel more efficient at generating electricity, increasing it by 5% to 10%. Electricity can be used to cover the cost of the pump.

In fact, solar developers are keenly eyeing the potential of the San Luis Valley, Colorado, because solar panels in cooler climates can generate electricity more efficiently. At over 7,000 feet above sea level, the canyon is much cooler than the Arizona desert and receives almost as much sunshine.

In 2018, solar panels were installed over a water treatment plant pond, making Walden the first hydroelectric power plant in Colorado. Christmas Pictures 2020 / Allen Best

Colorado already has limited hydropower installations. In 2018, Walden became the first location in the state to install solar panels over a small pond used for water treatment. 208 panels provide about half of the power required to run the plant. North Park, a town of 600 people located at an elevation of 8,100 feet, paid half of the $400,000 cost, with state grants covering the rest.

Other water and wastewater treatment plants, including Fort Collins, Boulder and Steamboat Springs, also employ renewable power generation, but not necessarily on water like hydropower.

Hansen said he believes Colorado has great potential for installing floating solar panels on reservoirs and panels installed above irrigation canals. “There’s a huge opportunity in the Denver water reservoir alone,” he says. “Additionally, the addition of several canals within the state creates hundreds of megawatts of generation opportunity here.”

Bighorn, Colorado’s largest solar project, has 300 megawatts of generating capacity on Pueblo land adjacent to the Rocky Mountain Steelworks. Comanche’s remaining two units have a combined capacity of 1,250 megawatts, but both are scheduled to be retired by 2031.

Why hydropower now and not 10 years ago? Because, according to Hansen, most of the best sites for solar power were still available. Onshore solar power was an easy achievement, given the additional cost of hydropower.

Hansen, who holds a degree in economics, says the economy is better now that the land is occupied. What’s more, with the price of solar power dropping by 10% each year, economic conditions look even better. The Control Inflation Act passed by Congress in August 2022 brings even more incentives. “I think there will be more and more hydropower projects planned in the future,” he says.

Arizona’s water utilities have resisted hydropower, but are now starting to rethink it. The Gila River Indian Community announced last year that it was building a pilot project to cover the canal south of Phoenix with assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “This project will provide an example of new technology that will help the Southwest cope with its worst drought in more than 1,200 years,” said Tribal Governor Stephen Law Lewis.

When completed, the canal-covered solar project will be the first in the United States. But both the $20 million pilot projects launched this year by Hilla and California’s Turklok Irrigation District are preceded by examples in India.

Officials of the Central Arizona Project, Arizona’s largest consumer of electricity and responsible for transporting the Colorado River’s water through 336 miles of canals to Phoenix and Tucson, reportedly said the Arizona and California will be closely monitoring new projects. Republic.

Byron Kominek, on a February afternoon at the site of his late grandfather’s farm, which he calls “Jack Solar Garden.”Photography/Allen Best

At the legislative committee’s final hearings in late April, the bill received strong support. Both the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union expressed their support.

So did representatives of nature conservation groups. “If we want to solve the climate crisis without exacerbating biodiversity and farmland loss, we need to think creatively,” Duncan Gilchrist testified.

“There are only winners in this bill,” said Jean Rose, who represents the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate.

The sharpest questions were directed at owner/manager Byron Kominek. Jack’s Garden of the Sun. There, in recent summers, vegetable rows have been grown in conjunction with dozens of solar arrays assembled on part of a 24-acre farm. He readily embraces reporters and others to sow the seeds of this idea throughout Colorado and beyond.

The question was directed by State Senator Rod Pelton, whose single district covers nearly a quarter of Colorado’s entire state, the sparsely populated southeastern quadrant. Pelton, a farmer and rancher in the Cheyenne Wells area, asks how high the panels are above the ground and what a racking system looks like high enough to address the problem of cows scraping against the panels. I wondered.

But the issue is closely related to how Mike Krueger, chief executive of the Colorado Solar Power and Storage Association, views agricultural power generation. “I never expected to see a ‘wave of amber grain’ under the panels,” he said in April. “It’s likely that cattle and sheep will be grazing.”

Hansen said in concluding comments to the committee in April that different approaches are needed for different locations, depending on climate zone, topography, growing conditions and other factors. That’s what research is about, he says, to maximize potential and figure out how to do it right.

NREL researchers Jordan McNick and Michael Rehan discuss solar panel orientation and spacing. The project aims to improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefit of solar power development with agriculture and landscape.Photo courtesy of NREL, Dennis Schroeder

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