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July 31, 2014

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Solar firms seek land

City to add acreage to its energy zone

The city as soon as next month will decide whether parts of the dry lake bed should be used for solar development — an early step in securing what it expects will be a big revenue source by 2010.

The solar designation could rule out future recreational uses on the dry lake bed, City Manager Vicki Mayes said.

NextLight Renewable Power, a new California company, had asked to lease 2,000 acres of city-owned land west of U.S. 95 in the Eldorado Valley for a thermal solar plant.

Six other solar energy companies are interested in leases in the area, Mayes said, and she expected new development there next year to bring lease money. She said she expects there’s enough room in the valley for all seven to build. The city will ask for proposals, including NextLight’s, by February, she said.

Past appraisals in the Energy Zone have valued leases of the land at $1,500 per acre a year.

The current Energy Zone has 1,000 acres available. The Planning Commission is scheduled Jan. 21 to consider whether 1,000 acres on the dry lake bed should be added to the zone for solar plants, and if NextLight’s requested area can be used for a solar plant. A vote had been scheduled on Dec. 17, but the meeting was canceled because of snow.

Also, NextLight’s requested 2,000-acre area would need to be rezoned and changes in the Land Management Plan made before the city can agree to lease the land.

The City Council will consider the commission’s recommendation. The Planning Commission previously supported use of the area in the Eldorado Valley for solar use, and the Jan. 21 public hearing will gauge support.

How soon the city will see lease money will depend on how quickly companies can get financing and how quickly the city can negotiate with them, Mayes said. Sometimes the city can collect lease money within a year of signing on, and other times it has taken two years.

“We’re very hopeful this will bring new revenue in for next year,” she said.

If NextLight leased 2,000 acres and the appraised value was the same as the Energy Zone, the first year’s lease could bring the city $3 million, Mayes said.

NextLight has secured funding and will be prepared to break ground on the plant next year if the lease is awarded, Jim Woodruff, NextLight’s vice president of regulatory and government affairs, said.

Cassie Tomlin can be reached at 948-2073 or [email protected].

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