Safford investigating development of a solar farm

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SAFFORD — The City of Safford is exploring another expansion of solar in its energy portfolio.

After a 30 minute discussion during Monday’s meeting, the City Council voted 4-2 to explore two funding sources to develop a city-owned solar farm with battery back-up.

Upfront cost to submit the letter of intent — due Sept. 29 — is $25,000, with the Veregy engineering firm agreeing to cover half the cost.

“This $12,500, that we’re ‘gambling,’ is 1 percent of what we supplemented our people in the last electricity jump before we had to raise our rates,” Councilman Steve McGaughey said. “$1.2 million it cost us for not having this in place, and here we’re talking $12,500 to possibly put it in place. It’s 1 percent of what we spent; I don’t see the fight.”

Using the example of a recent project Veregy completed in New Mexico, Utilities Director Jason Brimhall showed that a 10 megawatt solar farm, with a 5 MW battery back-up on about 35 acres, would cost about $60 million to develop. Using a USDA Powering Affordable Clean Energy loan — which has 40 percent principal forgiveness — and using the Investment Tax Credit Under Inflation Reduction Act credits, would reduce the city’s cost to about $10.5 million.

Brimhall also identified three potential locations already owned by the city where the solar farm could be located.

Councilman Arnold Lopez pointed out that using the funding mechanism proposed by Brimhall to help in the development of a new electrical substation the city already plans to build, allowing for solar tie-in, could reduce the city’s expenditures on the substation.

Voting in opposition was Councilman Mike Andazola and Mayor Jason Kouts, who said, “Sometimes, (City Manager) John (Cassella), I think you throw money out there like it was just nothing. But $12,500 is a lot of money to throw out there for a ‘what if.’ It is to me, and it is to my constituents.”

It’s the second move to solar by the city. In August, the City Council unanimously voted to purchase up to an additional 10 megawatts of power from a solar generating business offering the power to multiple utility providers around the region.