A map shows the proposed location of a 13-acre solar array that ACT and Christensen Arms wants to install to provide power for their facilities. To build the array, Gunnison City is planning to sell the companies the land at $2,000 per acre, and in return the companies’ owner is going to donate a 100-foot section of land across the company property to give the city improved access to their eastern borders.

 

Gunnison City approval of solar power complex at ACT may cut city income from franchise fees

 

By Robert Stevens

Managing editor

Oct. 12, 2017

 

GUNNISON—Gunnison City is faced with a quandary: By encouraging one of the valley’s largest employers in its efforts to go solar, the city may be putting government revenue at risk—particular money that funds the swimming pool.

During the two most recent Gunnison City Council meetings, the council talked about how ACT and Christensen Arms were in the process of installing a 13-square-acre solar array on property adjacent to the companies.

During the first of those meetings, on Sept. 27, Michael Cole spoke to the council about how his employer was being hired by ACT and Christensen Arms to install the solar array, which was meant to provide a large majority of the two business’s electricity needs.

“I think this is going to help our community down the road,” Gunnison Mayor Bruce Blackham said. “The better their situation is, the more jobs there will be.”

Some of the other councilmembers echoed his sentiment, and told Cole they were looking forward to see the project progress.

At the next meeting, held on Oct. 5, Councilman Blake Donaldson addressed the council about a meeting he had with Cole where they discussed some of the details of the solar proposal.

Donaldson said Cole’s firm was planning to purchase 13 acres of land for the solar installation from the city at $2,000 per acre, but the city would get something more out of the deal. Donaldson said Roland Christensen, co-founder of Christensen Arms and ACT, had agreed to deed a cross-section of the companies’ properties that would allow the construction of a road from 400 East Street and crossing company property, allowing improved access to the city’s eastern borders.

Many on the council agreed the arrangement sounded like a pretty good deal, until one potential problem arose.

Councilman Robert Anderson suggested there could be an issue with a reduction in funds that the city receives as part of the 6-percent franchise fee added to city electricity bills. The fee raises approximately raises approximately $190,000 a year, all of which goes to subsidize the Gunnison Valley Swimming Pool.

If one of the city’s biggest power users had a way to generate their own power, the revenue generated by the franchise fee could take a serious hit.

“That’s a tough one,” Donaldson said. “We want to see progress but we don’t want to hurt ourselves.”

Michelle Smith, a Planning and Zoning Commission member and unopposed city council candidate in the upcoming election, was in attendance at the meeting.

“The city is going to need to find a way to make up for that lost money,” she said.

The council decided they needed to look into how much revenue would be lost if the businesses did switch to solar power. Blackham, who is the operations director for the South Central region of Rocky Mountain Power, said he would look into the situation and get back to the council on the matter.