Sunnyside Community Solar Garden proposal of new construction

As part of our future power supply strategy, and through a specially negotiated provision with our wholesale power provider, LPEA is pursuing the development of a community solar project near Sunnyside Elementary School. 

The LPEA Board of Directors approved the purchase of property adjacent to an LPEA substation in January of 2022. They then awarded the construction contract to Konisto Companies in August of 2022. The 1.7 MW, 9-acre project will generate an estimated 4,643,000 kWh per year, which is enough to power 600 homes. We estimate the project will be completed in the Spring of 2024. 

Community solar is a form of solar energy generation that allows community members to access the benefits of renewable energy, including reduced energy costs, community ownership, and equitable workforce development. Community solar programs also make solar more accessible for LPEA members. Rather than having to put solar on their home, members can subscribe to a shared system of local solar panels. 

LPEA is currently moving through the permitting process and exploring how to distribute the energy generated by this project. A portion of the energy will be purchased by La Plata County, the City of Durango, and Durango School District 9-R to power certain facilities and support their carbon reduction goals. Another percentage will be offered to interested income-qualified members. Any remainder could then be offered to LPEA’s general membership through subscriptions to the community solar project. 

Please email with any questions or comments related to this project. 



FAQ’s for Sunnyside Solar 


How big is the site, and what will it look like?  

The solar panels are proposed to be placed on the south end of LPEA’s property and take up roughly 9.4 acres.  


 Could LPEA reconfigure the layout? How many panels will be installed?    

There are 3,348 panels. The configuration selected is the best practice according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife by limiting habitat fragmentation and loss of migration corridors. 


At the public information meeting on June 7th, it was mentioned there is an intention to expand the project with thousands more solar panels in the future.    

Expansion in the future could happen, but there are no current plans to do so. Should an expansion of the solar project be contemplated, the project would require the applicable permit process as outlined in the Land Use Code for the acreage proposed and including the 9.4 acre solar garden under review in this project. 


How loud will the solar panels be?  

The loudest component of the solar facility will be the inverters and their noise level specification is 65dBA at 3.28 feet away. At the fence line for the project, the inverters will be 100 feet away with an associated noise level of 35.3dBA. This puts the noise level at somewhere around a whisper at the fence line.   

The sound produced by the inverters on-site and at the transformer are only during production hours, which are daylight hours.  


Will the highway traffic or homeowners see glare from the solar panels?  

Solar panels are designed to absorb sunlight, not reflect it away. If they were reflective, they would not be doing their job of absorbing the sunlight that they are converting into energy. While the panels are very good at their job, they do not absorb 100% of the light. The monocrystalline solar panels we plan to install reflect between 0.2% and 0.35% of sunlight. Trackers follow the orientation of sun throughout the day. By doing so, any reflective light goes upwards instead of outwards towards passerby’s or neighbors. 


How will the construction impact soil and erosion?  

With minimal grading required, the goal of preserving existing pasture grass will be obtainable. LPEA will comply with the State of Colorado Storm Water Compliance and install soil erosion control until growth is re-established. LPEA will also do regular mowing maintenance to keep vegetation under the panels at a low level. The only long-term ground disturbance will be the piers that hold the solar panels and the concrete pads that hold the electrical equipment.  


Will the wildlife be impacted?  

With CDOT-approved game fencing encompassing the perimeter, large wildlife should be unable to access the property and interact with the solar site. The construction will be minimally intrusive to animal habitats. There will be no development in riparian zones. Additionally, the site construction methods are designed to prevent animal electrical shock, and when trenching, escape ramps will prevent wildlife trapping. The planned game fence will allow smaller animals to move in and out of the project.  In the layout and consideration of the project, best practices were followed for a solar site. 


Will my view be obstructed?  

The solar panel field has a maximum height of 9 feet at full tilt. Existing utility structures are at a taller height than the new construction for the solar garden. The panels will be placed in rows, stretching from North to South with 22 feet of spacing between rows, and set back at least 60 feet from any property lines. Natural grasses will grow under the panels and drought tolerant shrubs will be planted to help screen the system from the neighboring residents. 


Could there be other community uses or future nature trails for walking?  

LPEA is partnering with many community organizations like Fort Lewis College to maximize the education and workforce development benefits. LPEA is also willing to partner on property use with other community organizations, but LPEA is not in the business to develop these.  


Is it true solar panel light attracts insects; will there be a study of beneficial versus invasive insect issues?  

Some studies have found a small potential for insects to be attracted to solar panels for heat, shade, and potentially dark surfaces.  The studies reviewed are not conclusive on impacts.  Generally, studies have been completed in the upper Midwest and Northeast United States. 


 Do solar farms create heat? How will this affect the environment? Air quality? Plants?  

Although larger solar installation of over 500 acres can create up to a 2-degree ambient temperature increase in the area of the panels, this installation of 9 acres would create no noticeable increase in temperature to the surrounding area. The shade of the solar panels create a better growing environment for the native grasses.  


What is the plan for maintaining panels in regard to dust accumulation?  Will this affect school and residential air quality when the wind blows?  

  • The dust that is collected on the panels is the natural occurring dust in the area.  The panels do not increase dust. 
  • The collection of dust on the panels is typically not removed by wind.  It is rather most often cleaned by rain or other natural precipitation events. 
  • Current planning is to depend on natural rain/snow events to clean the panels as this is the most economical and best for the PV system.  If required, panels will be washed by hand to insure electrical production requirements for the site are met. Hand washing involves low water use with deionized water imported to the site.  Existing water resources at the site are not suitable for cleaning the panels. 


What happens when the solar facility reaches the end of its life? 

A decommissioning plan has been filed with La Plata County to remove and recycle the components of the solar installation.  The life expectancy of the Canadian Solar 650W bifacial panels is in excess of 30 years.  Please note response from Canadian Solar below 

Typically, there are 5 layers in a crystalline silicon PV module: a front cover (tempered glass), the electrical circuit (solar cells matrix) in between two encapsulant layers (front/back), and a back cover (backsheet or tempered glass). Aluminum metal frames are used to improve mechanical resistance of the PV modules and facilitate installation. Approximately 75% of a solar module’s weight is tempered glass, 10% is plastic parts, 8% is aluminum, 5% is silicon, and 1% is other materials. Thus, 95% of the materials used in a typical silicon solar module can be disassembled, sorted, processed, and recycled. 


Do solar power plants emit electromagnetic radiation?  

Electromagnetic waves and electricity go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. Currently the electricity that feeds the Sunnyside area comes in on a high voltage transmission line that is adjacent to the solar array. When electricity is generated by the solar array, it will produce electromagnetic waves, but since that electricity is no longer being brought in on the transmission line, its electromagnetic waves will be reduced by a corresponding amount. There will be no net increase of electromagnetic waves on the property. 


Why does this proposal qualify as location and extent, rather than change of use? 

The purpose of the location and extent review is to evaluate public uses and utilities for consistency with the comprehensive plan and to provide the planning commission, or joint planning commission, and the public with the opportunity to comment on such uses as provided by C.R.S. § 30-28-110. Since LPEA is a public utility, the location and extent review was the appropriate process.