On May 15, the Boulder County Planning Commission unanimously recommended 8-0 that plans to build Jack’s Solar Garden at 8102 95th Street move ahead and be presented to the Boulder County Commissioners on Thursday, June 13.
The first of its kind in Boulder County, the five-acre co-habitation of solar energy generation and agriculture is being proposed by Byron Kominek, a third generation owner of the farmland. Kominek successfully passed muster with Boulder County land use staff demonstrating that the project’s plans will meet county requirements.
Three thousand solar panels will provide 1.25 megawatts of energy to Xcel Energy’s power grid. The vision of the farm includes edible crops, a pollinator habitat with beehives, public art installations, collaborative research efforts, educational tours, free energy to select low-income households, and down the road, perhaps community supported agriculture.
As part of Kominek’s documentation to the county, he wrote, “We endeavor to be a community-based social enterprise by providing clean energy into the Xcel Energy grid, collaborating with academics and researchers to study the co-location of agricultural activities and solar energy production.”
The garden is partnering with researchers from the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), the University of Arizona, and Colorado State University, whose scientific teams will be instrumental in deciding where and what to plant under the panels.
Kominek used most of his time at the hearing to fully explain the pollinator habitat and agriculture being grown below the solar panels, water usage, the social-environmental benefits of the project, and updated setback plans.
Gunbarrel-based Namaste Solar, the contractor for the project, and an NREL representative spoke to the planning commission about their roles in the project. The ingenuity of the project and its long-term positive consequences were highlighted by both supporters.
Public comments expressing concern consisted of just two neighbors who thought traffic would increase on 95th Street as a result of the solar farm and who did not want to have the solar panels visible from their home.
Land use planners didn’t feel there would be adverse impacts to traffic, community capital improvements, or the environment as a result of the solar garden, and stated at the hearing that the plans meet setback and screening requirements essentially making the concerns moot points.
One unexpected line of discussion came from planning commission when members inquired about decommissioning plans for the site, perhaps 20 years in the future. The realization that as long as the generator is hooked up, the panels will continue to provide electricity to the Xcel grid, made the concern unimportant.
The conditional approval granted was based on applying for and getting a series of requisite permits, that setbacks will be adhered to, and parking would only be needed on the premises and not in right-of-ways.
The project is supported through subscribers – either local government or commercial entities or individuals. How much each subscriber may buy in for is a calculation of previous usage, and is then translated into a number of panels in the garden. Xcel in turn credits the subscriber’s monthly energy bill in proportion to the subscriber’s percentage of the total energy produced on Jack’s Solar Garden.
A philanthropic benefit to the project is that a percentage of the total grid capacity will provide free energy to select low-income recipients in the county. Subscribers also get the satisfaction of knowing that they’re doing a good turn for Mother Earth and her inhabitants by reducing fossil fuel usage and helping to supply clean energy.
Jack’s Solar Garden is reaching out to the public to raise $30,000 for 15 solar panels which will provide 11,000 kilowatt hours per year of free electricity for 20 years to Mental Health Partners of Boulder County, a local non-profit organization, through an Indiegogo campaign. To donate, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/jack-s-solar-garden-the-farm-of-the-future
For more information on Jack’s Solar Garden, visit www.JacksSolarGarden.com