With No Plans for Vacant Lot, Georgia City Votes for Solar Panels

An Atlanta-based company signed a 35-year lease agreement with the Development Authority of Columbus to lease a 21-acre site to develop into a solar farm.

by Alva James-Johnson, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer / November 30, 2017

(TNS) — Columbus Council cleared the way Tuesday for an Atlanta-based company to develop a solar farm on city-owned property just south of the Muscogee County Prison on Schatulga Road.

The plans call for the Development Authority of Columbus to lease the 21-acre site from the city under a 35-year lease agreement. The Development Authority would then sub-lease the property to SoLAmerica Energy, which will install solar panels at the 7149 Manor Road location, near Technology Parkway.

Council approved plans to quit claim the property to the Development Authority with a unanimous vote. Councilor Bruce Huff was absent at the time the vote was taken.

The project would be developed up to 2 megawatts in size under the Georgia Power Renewable Energy Development Initiative, supplying energy to Georgia Power’s grid at the location, according to information provided by SoLAmerica. It would provide enough solar energy to power about 265 homes annually.

“The city has no current or future plans for this property,” said City Manager Isaiah Hugley, who presented the lease agreement at Tuesday night’s meeting. “The property will revert back to the city at the end of the lease or any time the lease is terminated.”

City officials have said the property would generate $25,000 in lease and tax revenues for the city annually once up and running. On Tuesday, Hugley said there would be an option period, which would generate $1,000 a year and allow the tenant to determine if they want to move forward with the project. Once the project moves to the construction phase, the city would receive $800 an acre during that period.

Councilor Judy Thomas raised a couple questions posed by constituents, one concerning the length of the lease.

“You know, 35 years from now solar power may not be the thing; we may be on to something else,” she said. “So there was some concern about the length of the lease and I could not say why we’re looking at a 35-year lease. That does seem like a long time.”

Tully Blalock, SoLAmerica’s vice president and general counsel, said the project requires a substantial capital investment of millions of dollars upfront, and the revenue is generated over a long period of time.

“So, frequently, you don’t break even on these projects until way down the line in the distant future,” he said. “And then you start making a profit after you’ve paid off the capital investment.”

SoLAmerica already has a solar farm on former President Jimmy Carter’s land in Plains, Ga., and it has been working on projects with Georgia Power in other areas, the company’s president George Mori told Council during a previous meeting.

“... The project here is one that we’re very excited about because it goes to something, which our company focuses on, which is finding under-utilized properties in locations that can be utilized effectively for solar energy,” Mori said.

He said the typography of the land is best suited for a single access tracker system, which includes motors that power the rods that support the solar panels. The panels start in the east where the sun rises and the motors tilt them to the west, tracking the sun throughout the day.

“The advantage of these projects is they produce more power and the fact that they track the sun,” he said, comparing it to another system used by some companies. “They are more costly and, of course, that’s to the city/county’s benefit from a tax revenue standpoint.”

©2017 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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