Gunnison land use amendment
opens door to solar energy
Gunnison Solar will develop solar farm, lease equipment to existing company, ACT Aerospace
By Robert Stevens
Nov. 2, 2017
GUNNISON—In a step into uncharted municipal territory, Gunnison City has passed a temporary land use regulation allowing commercial-scale solar energy facilities in the city and has approved a conditional use permit for the first solar installation on land owned by ACT Aerospace.
The council took the action at the Wednesday Oct. 25 meeting even though it would result in a loss to Gunnison City of approximately $20,000 per year, according to Councilman Shawn Crane, because the city would no longer receive franchise fees on power Rocky Mountain Power sells to ACT.
According to discussion at the council meeting, about $6,000 per year would come in from property taxes on the installation, but that would still leave a net revenue loss to the city. Currently, power franchise fees are earmarked for subsidizing the Gunnison swimming pool.
The temporary land use regulation, which was approved for 180 days, opens the door for commercial-scale solar generating facilities to be built in the Gunnison industrial park at the north end of the city.
The industrial park is zoned light industrial. The new regulation does not allow solar- power generation in any other zone and does not approve it for residential use.
The temporary regulation was the first hurdle in ACT going solar, which it plans to do by bringing in an independent solar power development company, which will be called Gunnison Solar, LLC.
Gunnison Solar plans to build a solar panel array on 13 acres of ACT land and then lease the solar equipment to ACT. ACT will then draw power from the solar installation with the goal of meeting 85 percent of its power needs.
Even with the temporary land use regulation approved, a conditional use permit is required for each individual facility, leaving who can and can’t install a solar array in the city at the discretion of the city council.
The temporary regulation was approved on a unanimous 5-0 vote. Because council members Andy Hill and Blane Jensen both work at ACT Aerospace, they abstained from the vote to approve the conditional use permit. But the permit was supported by the other three council members. The vote on the permit was 3-0.
Earlier, Michael Cole, one of the principals in Gunnison Solar, LLC, who has built a similar facility in Sevier County, took his plan before the Gunnison Planning and Zoning Committee first. The commission endorsed it.
Cole and Bruce Parker, a consultant with Planning and Development Services, LLC of Salt Lake City, who is helping plan the solar facility, were at the council meeting. Councilman Shawn Crane asked them why the city could not tax Gunnison Solar LLC, as a utility company.
Parker replied that Gunnison Solar would not qualify as a utility because it would merely be leasing equipment to ACT. He also said a facility of the size planned would not qualify as a utility.
Gunnison City Mayor Bruce Blackham asked if it would be possible to assess a fee on ACT to make up for some of the lost city revenue.
Parker said it would be “a slippery slope to ask for a contribution from an applicant” of a conditional use permit. He said the conditional use permit should either qualify under regulations or not.
Parker admitted the plan was not without risk. If the temporary land use regulation was found wanting in 180-days, and if Gunnison Solar makes a substantial investment during that time, Gunnison Solar’s investment would be lost.
Parker and Cole emphasized they had approaching deadlines and commitments on the project, and were hoping to get approval to move forward that night.
“I feel like I am being railroaded into something I am not totally sure about,” Crane said.
Other council members were more certain about the project. One supporter was Councilman Blake Donaldson, who nevertheless admitted, “We are treading on virgin territory here.”
Donaldson said he didn’t want to hamper growth to ACT, which provides many high- paying jobs in the Gunnison Valley.
The council did agree that in order to build the solar array, Gunnison Solar would have to have dust, noise and pollution-mitigation plans, and would have to comply with county building permit requirements as well.