Gustine looking into leasing land for solar farm

Cash-strapped city could see at least $130,000 a year in revenue from deal.

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMarch 7, 2012 

The city of Gustine is hoping to cash in on the renewable-energy rush.

An environmental review is under way for a proposed solar-power installation on city property.

State law requiring power utilities to use more green energy has created a robust market for private companies that harvest solar and wind power and then sell it to companies such as Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The new market means landowners can benefit from selling or leasing property to private renewable-energy businesses.

In this case, the owner is the city of Gustine and officials hope to lease 130 acres to a company called Solar Reserve.

"In this economy that we're in, we had a company willing to come in and give us a $1,000 an acre," said Dennis Brazil, mayor of Gustine. "In a small community like ours that's very cash strapped, we all thought it was a good idea. It's looking very attractive to us."

Under the proposed contract, the city would have several options for charging Solar Reserve for the use of the land: a yearly price of $1,000 an acre; a percentage of gross income; a combination of both.

Critics have argued the project would displace agricultural land and limit the ability to expand the city's sewer treatment plant.

The solar company would be required to return the land to its original state after the contract expires, Brazil said. "The economy depressed as it is ... everyone's very optimistic, but we know it's going to be a very long time before we need to increase the size of our sewer," he added.

The area proposed for the solar plan is "not the best agricultural land," said Joe Oliveira, a Gustine city councilman. "And now we're getting very meager return off of it. With the shape the city's in, this is a good opportunity with absolutely no cost to us."

Under the proposed contract, Solar Reserve would be responsible for all the capital costs, including a transmission line from the facility to a nearby PG&E substation.

Solar Reserve would have to establish a agreement with PG&E or another utility to buy the solar power before the project could move forward.

The issue is expected to be in front of the council by the end of April unless an environmental study determines a more extensive environmental review is needed.

If everything goes as planned, the project could break ground by the end of the year.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or

jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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