Friends at San Juan County’s Department of Community Development:

I am emailing in regard to the Bailer Hill Microgrid project, which has applied for a conditional use permit, with a hearing scheduled for April 24.

I support the development of solar microgrids. Harvesting solar energy is, of course, the direction in which we need to be going.

However, I utterly oppose the site OPALCO has chosen for this particular installation. It is unbelievably ill chosen. The corner at Douglas Road and Bailer Hill Road is a viewshed to the west. It includes historic farmland. It is the entry point to the wide vista of San Juan Valley looking east to west.

No amount of hedgerow is going to hide elevated solar panels, and they will need to be elevated if sheep are to be grazed below. Panels no more than two feet off the ground (as OPALCO claims)? Unrealistic! Those with experience of similar projects know that panels must be elevated to allow for mowing, grazing, and weed control, and to keep animals from damaging the panels and wiring.

Presenting the project as a happy convergence of agricultural use and the need for solar power is disingenuous. No number of sheep (or cute lambs) will change the appearance of row after row of eight-foot-high solar panels marching across the pasture.

To claim that the microgrid project will allow a degraded pasture to be improved is also disingenuous. Most of the pastures in the county are degraded, but to propose that this is a marvelous opportunity to improve the pasture beneath the microgrid is strangely dissembling.

What was OPALCO thinking? They present this project as a choice between renewable energy and some dark future—a future of power outages from time to time, heaven forbid. Or as an action that we must take as we face the threat of the mainland grid soon exceeding supply. Yes, we need renewable energy. Yes, we need a microgrid infrastructure. But in this location? No.

Already OPALCO has violated the spirit of the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan with their clear-cutting of wide swaths around power lines. Are they going to blatantly violate the comp plan again with this proposal? Is this a face-off between those pushing utilities at the expense of all else and those who care about the rural character of our landscape and the preservation of agricultural land? To suggest such a thing is an artificial framing of the debate and the creation of an artificial divide within the community.

Build microgrids, but don’t do it in a place of such high visibility. Do more to enable roof-top solar installations. Use existing development (roof tops) to make progress in developing solar power. And keep ag land agricultural. In the future, we will need it. So back off, OPALCO!

I ask that Department of Community Development and the hearing examiner not approve this conditional use permit.

With thanks for your consideration of my input into this decision.