Weld County, the largest producer of oil in Colorado is witnessing a major transformation of a 174-acre agricultural property, columns of solar panels are sprouting from the landscape, against a backdrop of 15 oil wells that are drawing their last barrels of oil before they are decommissioned. Although fuel economists think that Weld County’s oil patch will continue to offer drilling opportunities for a few dozen years more, a rush of alternative energy generation signals change in the county.
With a limited lifetime for traditional oil drilling, Weld County is doing its part to prepare for the future, easing regulations for solar development and drawing developers to the county to put up utility-scale solar farms. And the demand is great as utilities try to meet state goals for renewable-energy generation and consumer preferences.
Solar still remains a small source of electricity in Colorado. Xcel Energy, the largest utility in the state, draws only about 2 percent of its power from solar sources, compared with 23 from wind farms. Wind works great on large-scale projects but solar works on both home and businesses. In Weld County, businesses and homes with rooftop solar installations generated 15 million kilowatt-hours of electricity last year.
By 2020, Colorado utilities must draw 30 percent of their power from renewable sources, and Weld County has positioned itself to land more utility-scale installations by honing its planning and zoning regulations. Among other things, land used for solar farms is not rezoned industrial, so if the systems are someday torn down, the property can return to agricultural uses.
Whether or not one believes in global warming doesn’t matter with solar you get stable electric rates at good price and you give back to the environment. That’s a win-win situation.