A major transformation of a 174-acre agricultural property in southeast Weld County is taking place. Columns of solar panels are sprouting from the landscape, against a backdrop of 15 oil wells that are drawing their last barrels of oil before they are decommissioned.
By November, this former turkey farm near Platteville will be a fully functioning, 16-megawatt solar farm, one of several utility-scale solar developments in Weld County.
Although fuel economists think that Weld County’s oil patch will continue to offer drilling opportunities for a few dozen years more, a rush of alternative energy generation signals change in the county that now produces the largest amount of oil in Colorado.
With a limited lifetime for traditional oil drilling, Weld County is doing its part to prepare for the future, easing regulations for solar development and drawing developers to the county to put up utility-scale solar farms.
And the demand is great as utilities try to meet state goals for renewable-energy generation and consumer preferences.
Jerry Marizza, new-energy program director at Brighton-based United Power Cooperative, said that with technology getting cheaper and more advanced, investing in solar is good business.
“Whether or not you believe in global warming doesn’t matter with solar,” Marizza said. “Do you believe in stable electric rates? We’re also getting good pricing — this is feasible. And it does give back to the environment. To me, that’s a win-win. It’s positive on all fronts.”
Solar still remains a small source of electricity in Colorado. Xcel Energy, the largest utility in the state, draws only about 2 percent of its power from solar sources, compared with 23 from wind farms, according to the company’s 2016 community report.
But solar is more versatile, said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association.
“Wind works great on large-scale projects,” she said. “But solar works on homes,…