The Colorado Farm Bureau recently sent a letter to both Weld and Boulder counties’ commissioners regarding energy development on agricultural land in their respective counties.
Both counties either have or are considering the regulation of renewable energy and oil extraction.
“We are extremely concerned about the efforts of your counties, which are among the state’s largest and most historic agriculture-producing counties, to limit the ability of farmers and ranchers to engage in energy production on their property,” Carlyle Currier, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau (CFB) wrote in a letter. “By singling out different forms of energy production for arbitrary regulation and restriction, your policies, at a minimum, serve only to cause economic harm to a particular sector.
“Caught in the middle are farmers and ranchers, deprived of both financial gains during a time of significant economic stress and their unalienable rights as property owners.”
Boulder County commissioners have established even further setback requirements than the rules enacted in November by Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
The commissioners unanimously approved to change the land-use code to require oil and gas wells to be 2,500 feet from homes, schools, daycare facilities, publicly owned trails and trailheads. Additionally, well pads must be a minimum of 2,000 feet away. According to Kim Sanchez, deputy director of community planning and permitting for Boulder County, the changes allow the Boulder Board of County Commissioners to regulate oil and gas facilities’ location and adjust “as necessary.” Sanchez stated setbacks would generally be 2,500 feet, but not, in any case, less than 2,000 feet. Regardless of the number of feet, the setbacks will be the biggest in the nation.
Additional requirements include the minimization of light pollution and noise levels, the use of renewable energy for electrification of the wells unless not feasible, and minimization of the loss of agricultural lands and operations. Existing wells would be grandfathered in and not required to comply with the setback requirements but will be required to have a valid and current county registration.
Chris McGowne, associate director with the American Petroleum Institute in Colorado, told Colorado Public Radio that the changes are “overly broad or simply neither necessary nor reasonable,” and would prevent private mineral rights development.
Weld County Commissioners want to regulate the installation of solar panels, citing a desire to keep the land in agriculture.
While it may seem solar companies, developers, or homeowners are the most prominent stakeholders in the regulations, landowners have provided a considerable amount of feedback on the issue. At a meeting with the Board of Commissioners in early December, landowners and solar companies were in attendance to negotiate the new regulations.
Current regulations in the county allow small-scale solar facilities in agricultural zones. The facilities cannot exceed 20 acres in size and must undergo oversight and approval processes. Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer contends solar companies are circumventing regulations by building a small facility in one location and then constructing another close by to avoid the permitting process required for larger facilities.
“Over the course of the last four to six years, there’s been this thought that just because it’s the agricultural zone that AG stands for ‘anything goes.’ It doesn’t. We still expect it to be agriculture,” Kirkmeyer said at the meeting.
With the new proposed regulations, county commissioners initially did not want solar farms in agriculture zones, but the proposal was scrapped after feedback from landowners. The current recommendation is to allow small-scale solar projects in agriculture zones if it does not exceed 20 percent of a parcel and cannot be 250 feet within another facility. Medium-sized solar facilities can be on rangeland three miles outside of a municipality or in an industrial zone subject to approval. Large-scale facilities will be allowed if they meet the requirements of the medium-sized solar facilities.
At the meeting between commissioners and stakeholders, proposed compromises include allowing solar on property other than rangeland and adjusting the limit on land use to be 20 percent of a parcel within three miles of a municipality and 35 percent outside the three miles.
A second reading of the proposed ordinance took place on Dec. 16, with commissioners also approving to continue the matter until their next meeting on Feb. 22, 2021.
Weld County is a “Right to Farm” county where 75 percent of its 2.5 million acres is dedicated to farming and ranching. On the county website, it states the Comprehensive Plan “is to support all forms of the agricultural industry and, at the same time, to protect the rights of the private property owners to convert their agricultural lands to other appropriate land uses.”
The Colorado Farm Bureau wrote in their letter property owners are “best placed to make decisions on how to use their property in a way that provides the most value based on their individual priorities, subject to reasonable restrictions to protect the livelihoods and quiet enjoyment of their neighbors.”
Currier states the state’s producers work to produce food and energy from their property, and producers should ensure their operation’s success by diversifying into energy production regardless of the form of energy.
“Policies that unnecessarily and arbitrarily limit farmers and ranchers’ ability to use their property in a way that will best provide value for their agricultural enterprise are extremely problematic.
“In many cases, it may mean the difference between success or failure of a particular farm or ranch business, many of which are multigenerational, historical, and a part of Colorado’s unique heritage,” the letter states. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor