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Amargosa board seeks input on solar agreement

TONOPAH — First Solar LLC, a company that recently announced plans to build a 65-megawatt, photo voltaic plant in Amargosa Valley, was granted an option to lease land at the Tonopah Airport by Nye County commissioners Tuesday.

The lease option agreement is for a term of two and a half years, during which First Solar will pay Nye County $63,628 annually for 795 acres, or just over $80 per acre. If the company wants to execute a lease agreement, the proposal is for a 30-year agreement, with a tripling of lease payments to $198,837 annually.

First Solar will have the exclusive right to use the property for a solar energy project including photo voltaic technology, transmission lines, electric transformers, telecommunications equipment, roads, meteorological towers, control buildings, maintenance yards and related facilities. The county will grant First Solar non-exclusive easements to build transmission lines to connect to the NV Energy 138-kilovolt electrical distribution system. A clause requires a bond for any remediation of the site afterwards.

County commissioners also set a Dec. 3 date for a public hearing on a development agreement for the Amargosa Valley photo voltaic plant to be built on 745 acres of private property west of Powerline Road north of Roberts Road. First Solar is building it through a subsidiary, Sunshine Valley Solar LLC. It includes a half-mile tie-in to the Valley Electric substation at Power Line Road and Anvil Road.

Amargosa Valley Town Board member John Bosta insisted his board be allowed to amend their area plan first, which calls for restricting renewable energy activities to an area north of Farm Road. But First Solar project developer Melanie Falls said they needed to get a development agreement approved quickly.

“Publicly we have said that we don’t plan on starting construction until 2016. However, in order to win a power purchase contract, we need to be able to enter into an RFP (request for proposals) process, which is scheduled to start next month and end in February and one of the keys to getting selected is having an advance development process, which is this development agreement,” Falls said.

Commissioner Frank Carbone asked, “if we don’t do something within the next 30 days there’s a possibility this might not happen?”

“That’s correct,” Falls replied.

Bosta said language in the development agreement cites a comprehensive plan from 1994, which doesn’t say anything about solar projects. He added following a Sept. 17 meeting, he spoke with county officials who all agreed the Amargosa Valley area plan had to be amended to fit the solar project.

Bosta said a later county comprehensive plan in 2011 exempted county land use decisions to towns with area plans like Amargosa Valley.

“Apparently you don’t want to allow the town of Amargosa to be involved in determining what’s going to happen in the solar project,” Bosta said. “In no way do we object to the solar project but we object to the procedure.”

He said the Amargosa Valley Town Board voted 5-0 to request from the county they be involved in developing the contract.

“We have been left out. There are areas our town wants to be involved and we have not been involved,” Bosta said, reminding county commissioners his board is no longer an advisory board.

“We have attempted to get feedback from the town of Amargosa at every opportunity,” Nye County Community Development Director Darrell Lacy said. “Any concerns about the area plan I agree we should follow up on this process with the Amargosa plan but time is of the essence on this project because developers are getting their approval process done.”

Lacy said county commissioners have the option to change language in the draft development agreement before the public hearing. He said the draft development agreement has been sent to the Amargosa Valley town board for review, they didn’t furnish any comments but only asked to be a signatory on the agreement. Lacy asked Bosta to provide comments from his entire town board not just himself.

Bosta said his town board voted 5-0 to be a third party to the contract but have been ignored by the county.

Some harsh words later ensued between Bosta and Nye County Commission Chairman Butch Borasky when Bosta loudly protested he wanted more time to speak.

“If you come into another one of my meetings with your attitude and your unwillingness to follow the rules, I’m going to have you removed,” Borasky erupted. “I don’t go to your town board meetings and act like a jack ass.”

Carbone said Bosta only came to ask questions and try to get a response.

The development agreement, which would be valid for 25 years from the start of construction, asks First Solar when constructing buildings to use natural colors found in the surrounding area and to install if possible, exterior lighting directed downward to minimize impacts on the dark skies. The company will make a good faith effort to purchase a reasonable amount of goods from Nye County vendors and pay any sales taxes not subject to renewable energy abatements in Nye County.

The county will cooperate in helping obtain rights-of-way and easements. A facility emergency plan will be required 90 days before construction. At the request of County Sheriff Tony DeMeo, First Solar will reimburse the sheriff’s department for any overtime for law enforcement, which is expected to be minimal. Emergency and fire protection training will be provided by the company.

First Solar will pay Nye County a one-time fee of $10,000 to provide staff and equipment for the medical clinic during the construction period. First Solar will have to show adequate water rights. A master traffic impact analysis and drainage study are required. The agreement calls for First Solar to improve access roads including from Highway 373 west on Mecca Road, Farm Road and Anvil Road, also north and south on Powerline Road,

A reasonable effort must be made to hire Nye County applicants for the construction and operation of the Sunshine Valley Solar Project and county contractors.

First Solar’s description of the Sunshine Valley Solar Project states all the electricity will be generated from the conversion of solar energy to electricity by the photo voltaic modules, it won’t consume any fossil fuels for power generation. The PV modules, inverters and transformers will be combined into array blocks as needed to provide the contracted power. Outside of daylight hours, the project will require power for equipment operation like energizing transformers, maintaining communications to equipment and for lighting, heating and air-conditioning at the operations and maintenance building.

The PV modules will be mounted on fixed-tilt mounting systems and/or single-axis horizontal tracker systems. The panels will be up to 13 feet above the ground at the highest point. Each tracker unit is about 65 feet long and powered by a half-horsepower electric drive motor operated for a few seconds to move the panels.

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