The purpose of this GIS-based mapping tool is to assess the feasibility of land sites for solar, facilitate connections between landowners and solar developers, attract economic investment to the region, and help support utility company and state renewable energy targets.

The tool belongs to National Land Realty (NLR), which has provided a custom regional portal for Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties. Registered users can log in here.

Under terms of the agreement with NLR, Network partner CLEER may use the tool’s data to estimate regional solar potential, advocate for regional solar policies, and engage and educate landowners on the opportunity to lease their land.

Map features

The map displays all private parcels in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties suitable for utility-interconnected solar development based on four main criteria:

  • Proximity to electric service infrastructure: The viable distance from a solar development to the point of grid interconnection is somewhat dependent on the size of the project and specific project economics. For the purposes of this study, sites within 500 ft. of a 3-phase distribution line were selected for inclusion.
  • Site acreage: To maintain some economies of scale, the first round of site search focused on parcels with 10+ usable acres. To be inclusive of the potential for smaller projects, a second-round search included smaller sites of 5-10 usable acres.
  • Physical limitations: Sites were then assessed for physical characteristics that may preclude development, such as slopes greater than 10% or wetlands and large bodies of water.
  • Land ownership: Parcels under federal or state government ownership, such as state wildlife areas, national forest and BLM lands, were excluded.

Parcels are then color-coded to indicate one of three statuses:

  • Meets pre-qualification criteria
  • Meets criteria and landowner has been contacted
  • Meets criteria and landowner has indicated interest in solar on the site

Users can click on any parcel to view acreage, ownership, zoning and other data. The map also displays various GIS layers indicating farmland, bedrock depth, wetlands and flood zones, and percentage of slope.

How the tool was created

To identify utility-scale generation sites in the region, the team contracted with National Land Realty, which has a GIS solar mapping platform that could be customized to create a mapping portal.

NLR created base mapping layers, and then used LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging, a laser-powered remote sensing method), GIS (Geographic Information System mapping) and parcel data from the Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield county assessor offices to analyze characteristics and properties of land parcels and identify suitable sites for solar development. NLR’s analysts then manually reviewed each parcel to measure how much solar could be built.

This map is one component of a Three-County Regional Solar and Storage planning project, made possible through a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, local matches from Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties, and in-kind support from Holy Cross Energy.

The project is administered by Garfield Clean Energy and staffed by CLEER, CORE and Walking Mountains Sustainability.

What about public lands?

Note that the NLR map analyzes only private land parcels. While the majority of the land in our region is owned by the federal government, the agencies that manage these public lands – the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service – have concluded that federal lands in the three counties covered by this map do not meet key criteria to be suitable for solar development. Similarly, the Colorado State Land Board has found that none of the lands it holds in the three counties are suitable for solar development. After reviewing the agencies’ analyses, the project team concurred with their conclusions.

The main technical barriers to solar development on public lands in the region are topography, as much of these lands have a slope greater than 10 percent, and lack of grid infrastructure or transmission lines crossing what is largely remote terrain and wilderness.