Since March of last year, RICK’s Arvada, Colorado team has had the rewarding opportunity to be part of the Sun Bear Solar Farm renewable energy project team. RICK’s role supported the team by creating a 3D model for the conceptual design of the solar farm and the surrounding area in Colorado’s Four Corners region, and we now play a role in presenting this model to the local community.
This project site is located on land belonging to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (a Weenuche band of the Ute Nation of Indians), and collaborating with the Tribal Council is an honor for our team.
“Working on the Sun Bear Solar Farm project has been a fantastic experience for the Arvada Design Team. Not only is it another opportunity to showcase our graphic and technical capabilities, but it also allows us to build a good relationship with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and continue RICK’s involvement in the renewable energy market.” —Mike While | RICK Associate Principal
Our client, Canigou Capital, and all other partners involved in the project have prioritized integrating the indigenous wisdom of the Ute Mountain Ute people into the project. Project designers at Kiewit Corporation and Ensight Engineering’s electrical engineering team developed a partnership with the Tribe that resulted in the design of a renewable energy site, benefiting the local community in both the short term and long term.
“The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is one of our primary partners, and Sun Bear would not be successful without their vision and participation. We respect the work they have done around clean energy in the past, the generational knowledge of the land, and all that they bring to project Sun Bear.” —Canigou Capital
RICK’s 3D model of the Ute Mountain region includes 5,500 acres of land that will hold 2 million solar panels, 2 manufacturing buildings, 1 logistics center, and thousands of additional acres of surrounding land. Using Autodesk Software and Lidar data, RICK’s Jared Gorby and the Arvada engineering team were able to create a powerful visual tool illustrating the minimal impact the project will have on the land, particularly the slight visual impact to the surrounding town of Towaoc.
“I had the privilege of assembling the solar farm 3D model and presenting it to the tribal members and residents. This is our largest 3D model so far at around 775 square miles, so showing such a large model in real time presented a unique challenge. Thanks to the knowledge and ability of our amazing IT staff and engineers, we were able to pull it off.
It is also an honor to work with and learn from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council Chairman Manuel Heart. I look forward to seeing the positive impacts of the project come to fruition for the tribe, while also reducing the area’s dependence on fossil fuels.” —Jared Gorby | RICK Principal Landscape/Urban Designer
Along with showcasing the model, RICK is actively playing a part in presenting the project’s benefits over several community outreach meetings cohosted with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council, Canigou Capital, and the rest of the project team. Other project consultants attending community meetings include Adkins Consulting, United Field Services, Ensight Energy Consulting, and Woods Canyon Archeological Consulting.
The long-term, positive environmental impact of the project will be significant. Wide expanses of flat land and the climate in the Upper Colorado River Basin project site allow continuous hours of direct sunlight to penetrate the solar panels. With over 270,000 homes powered by the solar grid during its peak generation, it will displace 1,402,483 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year!
Over the course of construction, the project will supply close to 300 jobs for locals. When construction is complete, the site will require 10-20 permanent employees. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe will also receive a percentage of the revenue generated by solar energy to help fund Ute Mountain Ute programs, develop jobs, and increase educational opportunities.
In terms of land impact during construction, local plant life and wildlife (such as the Mesa Verde cactus and the burrowing owl) will have specified no-construction buffers surrounding each cactus and active nest.
“Collaborating with the Tribe and our involvement in the process of a renewable energy project is extremely rewarding. This is different from our typical projects, but as landscape architects and engineers, we work on a diverse variety of projects and scopes. This project enables us to showcase some of the skills we have to offer, and the team of professionals involved are fun and interesting to work with.” —Kim Nelson | RICK Principal Project Landscape Architect
The project is currently in its early design phase, and RICK looks forward to watching it unfold over the next few years. Thank you to all of RICK’s partners for your dedication in creating responsible, renewable energy in the beautiful state of Colorado.