No Bids to Build Solar Plants on Federal Land in Colorado

by Greg Pollowitz

From the Denver Post:

The plan to auction rights to federal land across the West for solar power plants got off to a rocky start Thursday when no bidders showed up for the first auction in Colorado.

Uncertainties about the solar market and federal rules likely were major factors in the auction’s failure, industry officials said.

Five companies had filed preliminary applications for the three San Luis Valley parcels, and there were another 27 inquires about the sites, according to Bureau of Land Management officials.

Based on that interest, officials scheduled an auction for the 3,700 acres of valley land at the BLM Colorado office in Lakewood.

“We are going to have to regroup and figure out what didn’t work,” said Maryanne Kurtinaitis, renewable-energy program manager for the BLM in Colorado.

“It is always tough to be the first out of the chute. This is a learning experience,” Kurtinaitis said.

The parcels are in solar-energy zones — areas designated for fast-track development because they have access to transmission and are not in environmentally sensitive areas.

The bureau has created 19 solar zones in six western states covering about 300,000 acres.

The four zones in Colorado — all in the San Luis Valley — cover 16,309 acres. Parcels in Saguache and Conejos counties were put up for bid.

The tepid response likely was the result of market uncertainties, said Ken Borngrebe, environmental-permitting manager for Tempe, Ariz.-based solar developer First Solar.

Borngrebe attended the auction as an observer.

The question for any developer looking at a site hinges on access to transmission, the cost of land and the market price for the solar, Borngrebe said.

The San Luis Valley sites have access to transmission, and the minimum bid prices for the parcels ranged from about $3,350 an acre to $4,280 — low prices, Borngrebe said.

“It may come down to the lack of confidence in the market for solar today,” Borngrebe said.

Another factor may be regulatory uncertainty, said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

“Financing large solar projects continues to be a challenge for the industry,” Johnson said in an e-mail.

“In this particular case, there’s an added issue which may have prompted developers to take a pass on the Colorado lease sale,” Johnson said. “The ground rules are still very much in question. To date, BLM has yet to finalize any regional mitigation plans. Frankly, it’s not smart business to commit to something until you’ve read the fine print.”

The acution went forward before the details were finalized? Like Obamacare.

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