Volume No. 18 Issue No. 2 February 2021  

  Solar energy supplies electricity for 13,000 homes

     A few miles south of Calhan is the face of the future for generating electricity. Nestled among the Golden West NextEra Energy wind farm is the Grazing Yak Solar Project, consisting of 119,178 solar panels on 278 acres.
   The project is located south of Washington Road and about one-half mile west of the intersection of Washington and Currier roads. The project gained its unique name because the property that houses the sonar panels used to be a pasture for yaks. An older couple owned the land, and the family did not want to continue raising yaks.
   Grazing Yak Solar became operational in November 2019. It generates 35 megawatts of electricity — enough electricity to power 13,000 homes for a year. Since that time, the project has performed as expected and about 5% of Colorado Springs Utilities’ customers are using solar energy. NextEra Energy Resources owns the project and sells the electricity to Colorado Springs Utilities. According to NextEra's website, the company is the world's largest producer of wind and solar energy. Forbes Magazine named NextEra among the top 25 in the world for innovation.
   By 2030, CSU hopes to reduce its carbon emission to 80 percent of the 2005 level through the use of solar and other alternate energy sources.
   As a private corporation, NextEra is taking advantage of a tax credit and passing that savings along to CSU in a reduction of electricity costs as part of the purchase agreement. At this point, it is cheaper for a private company to build solar energy projects for CSU; however, utility officials think that in the future it might be more advantageous for CSU to build their own projects. Buying the Solar Yak project from NextEra might also be an option in the future if NextEra's tax advantage is phased out.
   With more solar projects being planned, CSU residential and commercial customers can designate that part or all of their electricity is sourced from solar energy. Natalie Watts, senior public affairs specialist with CSU, said customers can choose to have from 30% to 100% of their electricity sourced by solar power.
   Colorado Springs Utilities issued a news release Dec. 9, 2019, in which CSU Chief Executive Officer Aram Benyamin and John De Donato, vice president of development for NextEra, were quoted about the Grazing Yak project.
   “As detailed in our Energy Vision, we are committed to providing resilient, reliable and cost-efficient energy that is environmentally sustainable,” Benyamin said. “Grazing Yak is one of the latest examples of how we are partnering with entities to change the ways we power Colorado Springs, taking advantage of the economic and environmental benefits of solar power.”
   “We are proud to work with Colorado Springs Utilities to generate more clean, low-cost, renewable energy for its customers,” Di Donato said. He stated that the project results in “millions of dollars in additional tax revenues to benefit its local community for years to come.”
   Editor's note: Unless otherwise specified, the material in this article is from a recent telephone conference call between the NFH and the following CSU officials: Warren Seese, project manager for the Grazing Yak project; Michael Avanzi, manager of energy planning; and Alex Baird, supervisor of energy trading.
This photo shows a few of the 119,000 solar panels that make up the Grazing Yak Solar Project. Photos by Pete Gawda
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