Lack of bidders clouds first-ever solar auction
LAKEWOOD – Going once, going twice, no sale.
The Bureau of Land Management’s first-ever solar rights auction failed to attract a single bidder Thursday morning, a disappointing launch for a program that aims to jump-start large solar plants on federal land.
Three parcels in the San Luis Valley were up for bid in the first competitive auction of potential solar power plant sites that the BLM identified in six Western states.
The auction was in the same suburban conference room the BLM uses for its quarterly gas and oil lease sales. But when auctioneer John Clatworthy stood at the podium and asked for bids, he only answer was an awkward silence.
“Even the very best auctioneer has a tough time working with that,” Clatworthy said.
BLM officials said the received early expressions of interest from five companies, and they will have to regroup and find out why no one showed up Thursday.
“First out of the chute, it’s difficult to anticipate who may or may not come,” said Maryanne Kurtinaitis, the renewable-energy program manager for BLM’s Colorado office.
Federal agencies have already permitted dozens of smaller renewable-energy projects on public lands, but Thursday’s auction was the first attempt in the country to sell rights for a large operation of 20 megawatts of more. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pushed the solar program forward and approved fast-tracking the sites in the San Luis Valley, plus sites in the other Four Corners states, Nevada and California.
Unlike gas and oil auctions, where companies nominate the land to be auctioned, the BLM chose sites to be designated as solar zones and then opened up the auction process to private bidders.
A few dozen people, including several from solar power companies, showed up to observe, and BLM officials was encouraged about the degree of interest, even if the crowd’s checkbooks remained closed.
“The fact that we didn’t sell (Thursday) is no indication whatsoever that we won’t be able to move forward with solar development in any of these solar energy zones,” said BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo.
The lands will continue to be made available to interested solar power companies, she said.
The BLM did not designate any land in the Four Corners as a solar energy zone suitable for a large power plant. Much of the BLM’s land in the region is in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and other parcels are too hilly for a solar array. The BLM also chose land that is close to high-capacity power lines.
“The fact that we didn’t designate a zone in Southwest Colorado certainly doesn’t mean solar is off-limits,” Lacayo said.
The parcels up for bid Thursday are at the north and south ends of the San Luis Valley. Two tracts are just north of Antonito, and the third is just off U.S. Highway 285 at the intersection of Colorado Highway 17, the short cut from Alamosa to the north end of the valley.