WEB ONLY Solar power

A solar power facility with potential to bring renewable energy for use in Laramie could be coming to a city-owned ranch after an early stage of the project was approved at a City Council meeting Tuesday.

The Laramie City Council voted unanimously to approve a lease agreement and memorandum of understanding between the city and Boulevard Associates, LLC, Delaware — an affiliate of Next Era Energy — for the development of a solar energy center on the Monolith Ranch. The lease agreement became a matter of urgency at Tuesday’s meeting as Next Era is working on a power purchase proposal with Rocky Mountain Power due on Monday. The council’s approval allows the energy company to submit a proposal to prove site control that could move the project into the next stages.

The agreement includes a four-year lease term with a potential two-year extension to Next Era for about 2,400 acres on the city-owned Monolith Ranch. With the lease in place, Next Era can begin evaluating where to place a potential 160 megawatt solar facility with battery storage. The lease option would provide approximately 1,200 acres of land to construct the solar energy facility. The 160 MW capacity would come with an associated 80 MW battery storage component that would allow for sufficient power to be delivered during times that generation does not meet demand.

There’s a potential for the lease to encumber the land for 50 years. Assistant City Manager Todd Feezer said any land that is disturbed is to be returned to its natural state upon removal of the facilities.

The Monolith Ranch is ultimately owned for its water rights, and Natural Resources Manager Darren Parkin told the council the lands were specifically chosen because the solar facility would not have any negative impact on future consumption plans. There would, however, be some impacts to the ranching operation the land is now used for, but Parkin said the lessee would be amenable to working around the project.

Next Era, a Florida-based American-owned renewable energy company that recently completed the Roundhouse Wind Energy Project just west of Cheyenne, plans permitting for 2022 with construction to begin in late 2023 if the company is able to secure a power purchase agreement for the site.

Rocky Mountain Power and its parent company PacifiCorp are now seeking requests for proposals for renewable energy across its six-state footprint, Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Next Era developer, told the council. Next Era’s marketing plan now is to create an opportunity for Rocky Mountain Power to provide energy generated by the planned solar facility to the city of Laramie. This, Fitzpatrick said, would allow Rocky Mountain Power to provide energy to the city of Laramie without paying fees for use of federally-owned transmission lines as it typically does.

Laramie’s total power demand fluctuates between 120-150 MW, according to city staff. As such, the solar facility could potentially meet all of Laramie’s energy demands.

“Under this current marketing plan, if we’re able to sell this power to Rocky Mountain Power through this (request for proposal) or some other opportunity, that power would be consumed in Laramie — you could reasonably point to that,” Fitzpatrick said. “Having said that, if we are unsuccessful with this current opportunity and are trying to find another home for this power, I can’t guarantee that power would be consumed locally, but under this current proposal, that would be the case.”

Councilman Paul Weaver said he wanted to ensure the council was getting the most it can out of the project in coordination with its resolution to be carbon neutral by 2050.

By generating renewable power for use in the city, Laramie could potentially earn renewable energy credits. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a renewable energy certificate, or REC, is a market-based instrument that represents the property rights to the environmental, social and other non-power attributes of renewable electricity generation. RECs are issued when one megawatt-hour of electricity is generated and delivered to the electricity grid from a renewable energy resource.

Monika Leininger, speaking on behalf of the Alliance for Renewable Energy in Laramie, emphasized the importance of renewable energy credits.

“The renewable energy credits do make a difference in terms of making sure Laramie can say it’s reducing its carbon emissions,” Leiniger said. “I would encourage you to understand the bargaining and negotiating power they have on this front. You’re able to negotiate in terms of having access to the resource, as well as the proximity of the transfer station, so I would encourage the city council to perhaps work with Rocky Mountain Power in the power purchase agreement to get partial or even full ownership of those renewable energy credits.”

There will be opportunities for public participation in the project during the permitting stages with Albany County and the state’s Industrial Siting Council, Fitzpatrick told the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee on Thursday.

Next Era anticipates the project to be a $175 million investment in Albany County over its lifetime. It estimates the project would generate more than $24 million in property and sales taxes, 140 construction jobs and seven “quality, high-paying” permanent full-time jobs.

Fitzpatrick said the project would be named after Wyoming basketball legend Kenny Sailors.

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