On March 13 Opalco filed a notice of application with the County for a permit for a power plant at the corner of Douglas and Bailer Hill rd. The property is just under 20 acres and their proposal calls for a 20% coverage of the property with solar panels and misc. support structures. There will be a non-permeable pad that is 115ft x 135ft (15,525sq ft.) for batteries and transformers that will be surrounded by a 10ft. cyclone security fence. The entire property will also be fenced and screen landscaping is planned along the roads. The two pairs of Bald Eagles that call the large firs on this property their home and hunting grounds are not mentioned in Opalcos' 110 page application. Their roosting Fir trees are to be removed.

  This is considered 20% usage of the land

Which layout are they going to use?

 This property is the SE corner of the San Juan Valley and it is designated for Ag use. The county has determined that this power plant fits the Ag zoning designation because the panels only cover a total of 20% of the surface of the property. This determination is ingenious as the intent of the San Juan Valley AG zoning was that all development would be located on 20% of the property and leave 80% open space for Ag use. This power plant will basically blanket the entire parcel. The AG zoning also calls for the county to take into account the aesthetic implications of a proposed project such as this one. OPALCO has not really addressed the visual impacts that the project will have on the area or on the views across the entire San Juan Valley. This project will have the “charm” of a penitentiary and will most certainly ruin the aesthetics of this well traveled corner. Most importantly if this power plant is passed, it will very effectively break the AG zoning thus leaving the door open for further development of the San Juan Valley and other AG zone property.

The public comment period lasts for 3 weeks and closes on April 3. The project then goes before the Hearing Examiner for evaluation on April 24th. All public comments need to be put in writing and submitted to San Juan County planning dept. by April 3.

Final thoughts:

  1. All islanders should be aware of this project and its implications for this beautiful corner, its wildlife and its views across the San Juan Valley.
  2. Islanders should visit the site and actually get out of their cars and look at what we stand to lose. They need to get out of their heads and into their hearts to visualize how this project will transform this very visible location.   
  3. I am not against Solar Power generation, but Power Plants (like all building projects) must be located at appropriate sites because they can and do have negative impacts on their surroundings. Imagine what our islands would look like if engineers and lawyers made all design decisions. Our “rustic charm” can be quickly transformed as it was recently when OPALCO “trimmed" trees along Roche Harbor Rd. and Pear Point Rd.

Royce Meyerott