Craig OKs leasing plan for new solar production
On Tuesday, Craig City Council showed its support for leasing out a parcel of city-owned land for a solar development project, which could help replace coal power generation and bring new jobs to the area.
Thomas Sweeney, community solar managing director for Con Edison Clean Energy, spoke with City Council about a proposal to use the city’s property adjacent to the water treatment plant.
Con Edison develops, owns and operates wind and solar generation and battery storage sites across the country. Currently, the company has over 130 clean-energy sites stretching from coast to coast, as well as in Hawaii, and boasts being the second-largest operator of solar projects in North America.
Sweeney said that to date, Con Edison has not been developing any clean-energy projects in Colorado, but its focus has changed since the state mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2030.
“Colorado is now a strong focus for us from a development standpoint,” Sweeney said. “We have approximately 4,000 acres under control currently for various projects across the state.”
Con Edison is working on securing three parcels of land to build a solar generation and energy-storage project adjacent to the Craig substation.
“All of this is geared toward replacing the generation capabilities that will be going offline as those coal plants are retired,” Sweeney said.
The land includes parcels owned by the Evans Land Trust, which has been secured with a land-purchase agreement; Colorado State Land Board, which is under lease for planning use; and a 160-acre parcel owned by the city, which is currently being used for the disposal of biosolids from the water treatment plant.
To use the city parcel, Con Edison would need to find an alternative site for biosolids disposal. Another site has been identified, but an assessment would need to take place before the plan could be approved. If Con Edison can move forward with a new disposal site, the company would need to pay to truck the biosolids to the new site for the lifetime of the project.
The proposed project would take between 18 and 24 months to construct and be open for commercial operation by December 2025. The solar project would plug into the grid at the Craig substation. The project would be able to take advantage of the substation’s existing circuits, which are owned by WAPA, Tri-State, Platte River Power Authority, and Public Service Company of Colorado.
Con Edison would guarantee standard decommissioning sureties that the land would be restored back to its original state after the useful life of the project.
Sweeney said the city parcel is ideal for solar development because it is relatively flat, which would require less site preparation. It’s also free of trees and ridges, which would give the panels full access to sunlight.
The majority of the land surrounding the Craig plant is owned by the Colorado state land board, approximately 8,000 acres in total. Sweeney said there are parcels in this acreage that are suitable for installation of solar.
Con Edison is working with the state land board to obtain additional leasing rights released from Trapper Mine that could be earmarked for future project expansion.
“We would like to try and replace as much of the generation as possible with renewable energy, but not all of this land is going to be suitable for the installation of solar,” Sweeney said.
Con Edison handles all site prep, operations and maintenance of projects in-house, so they would be hiring and training from the local community to fill these positions.
Sweeney estimated that during construction, there would be 80-100 jobs that would be trained to do the installation. Post-construction, the solar station would need three to four full-time employees to monitor and manage the site with an additional eight to 10 part-time employees for specialized maintenance activities.
Ideally, the full-time staff also would be a part of the build. Sweeney estimated those salaries being between $90,000 to $100,000. For less qualified laborers, salaries would range between $50,000 and $60,000.
Qualified electricians needed for the project will have salaries closer to $100,000, depending on skill level. There will also be jobs related to trucking and administration needed for the operation.
In terms of tax revenue generated by the project, Sweeney said Con Edison is still waiting on the exact numbers. The property tax would be based on the total value of the build, and the company would pay possessory taxes in lieu of property taxes.
City Manager Peter Brixius estimated the project would generate roughly one million dollars in tax revenue per year, based on revenue from other local taxes. The parcels fall primarily in county and special districts.
Following the presentation, council went into executive session to obtain legal advice related to the potential lease. After the closed-door discussions, council approved a letter of intent for the lease of the property.
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