LACON — A divided Lacon City Council tentatively agreed Monday night.to lease 20 acres of city-owned farmland for 35 years to a solar energy developer that has never addressed or met with the council.
The panel voted 3-2, with one abstaining, to move forward toward finalizing an agreement with Minnesota-based Sunrise Energy Ventures in a contract expected to come up for a final vote next month.
The company would pay the city $1,300 an acre per year for the 2 megawatt installation, for a total of about $1.3 million over the life of the contract, said Acting Mayor John Wabel,
“That can build a lot of roads in this town and pay a lot of bills,” Wabel said. “We owe it to the people of this town to take advantage of this income.”
Unlike two companies that were rejected Monday, Trajectory Energy Partners of Highland Park and Minnesota-based Innovative Power Systems, Sunrise has never made a presentation to the council. Instead, a representative met only with Wabel and Alderman Les Hattan last Friday, Wabel said when an alderman mentioned expecting to hear from the firm Monday.
“He couldn’t be here tonight,” Wabel said.
The close vote came after a lengthy discussion in which Wabel repeatedly urged hesitant council members to act quickly and emphasized his own conclusion that the firm offered the best deal financially. IPS had offered $1,200 an acre and Trajectory $1,000.
Wabel asked the council to rule out IPS because of “unacceptable stuff” in their proposed contract, and the council did so on a 6-0 vote. His preference for Sunrise over Trajectory was based on the financial returns, he said.
“I like both companies,” Wabel said, “but what it boils down to for me is how we can make the best use of our land and generate the most income.”
Trajectory’s offer of $1,000 for 19 acres would add up to only $951,000 over 35 years, Wabel noted. The company’s alternative of using all 26 acres owned by the city for a 4 megawatt installation would about equal the $1.3 million, but the Sunrise 20-acre proposal would leave those six acres available for possible other development, he added.
The land, at the east edge of town, was designated an industrial park years ago, but has attracted no serious interest. So the prospect of future business development did not seem like much of a factor, Alderman Tim Strawn suggested.
“I don’t like giving up all 26, but I got no reason not to,” said Strawn. “There’s nobody out there beating down the door.”
Unlike the other firms, Sunrise will not develop a “community solar” project offering subscriptions to individuals, institutions, and businesses to save money on their electric bills. That’s because that money goes toward the higher rent paid to the city, Wabel explained.
Trajectory recently got Marshall County zoning approval for two community solar projects outside Henry, and County Board member Hank Gauwitz urged the council to give serious thought to the subscription issue.
“It might not bring you as much money into the coffers of the city,” Gauwitz said, “but schools and that sort of thing might be able to utilize the subscriptions to keep their energy costs low.”
Trajectory also has a tentative agreement for a 20-acre community solar project on land owned by the Lacon Cemetery Association at the south edge of town. The company will hold an open house on that project at the Lacon Area Community Center from 4 to 6 p.m. on April 17.
Strawn joined Robin Modro in voting no, while the yes votes were cast by Hattan, Tim Jason and Wabel, who had retained his alderman’s seat and vote last year when chosen acting mayor. Janine Hoskins abstained, indicating she did not feel she had enough information.
“Abstains go with the yeses, so that’s a majority,” Wabel said.
The council is expected to consider final action at its May 14 meeting, following a required published notice for a long-term lease. The plans could change until the council adopts an ordinance, Wabel emphasized.
“I know this is confusing,” he said. “I’ve been at it for quite a while, and I’m not sure I understand it all either.”
Gary L. Smith can be reached at (800) 516-0389 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Glsmithx.