Sunset rays over a photovoltaic power plant.

Large solar array coming to Wheeler Gulch

Limited impact land use change permit approved for 44-acre system north of Parachute

November 8, 2023

Garfield County has approved a limited impact land use change permit for a 10-megawatt, 44-acre solar array to be built north of Parachute along County Road 215. The proposal includes a substation, parking area, access roads, and roughly 22,000 solar panels at the site, which is owned and operated by Caerus Piceance LLC.

According to the proposal, the system is designed to serve Caerus’ oil and gas operations and is tied to the Xcel Energy grid. The site was formerly home to holding ponds and an access road for oil and gas operations and will now provide around 25 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

Garfield County Senior Planner Philip Berry told the Board of County Commissioners that the area is predominantly oil and gas production, fencing is being installed to keep wildlife out of the solar array area, and all stormwater planning for the site is adequate.

“Staff recommends as part of fire protection that emergency access always be maintained, including maintenance of the driveway, as well as giving emergency responders access to the site in case of wildfires or other emergencies,” he added. “The applicant noted that there is going to be 24-hour monitoring of the site to identify any issues.”

County staff recommended approval of the permit with conditions, including receiving a watershed protection permit from the Town of Parachute.

Jason Eckman, regulatory and community relations lead for Caerus, told the board the purpose behind the project is to stabilize electricity costs associated with its Middle Fork compressor station.

“It has a heavy load and needs electricity to run those natural gas compressors,” he explained. “This facility will help offset the costs of what we pay to Xcel Energy … and solar generation from Wheeler Gulch will supply some of the compressors’ annual electricity use at a fixed cost lower than Xcel’s current rates for 30 years or longer.

“We intend to consume all the solar energy that’s generated from this facility to run our operations and not sell any of that electricity for profit,” he added.

Eckman said it’s anticipated that the project will employ roughly 100 workers during the 6- to 8-month construction period.

The board approved the permit unanimously, 3-0, with conditions including that no mineral rights below the property be stranded and no subsurface mineral owners harmed by the project.