Sanpete grants conditional-use permit to couple for solar farm near Fairview
James Tilson and John Hales
MANTI — Commercial solar-power generation may be headed to Sanpete County, part of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s plan to grow 25,000 new rural jobs over the next four years.
On Wednesday, July 12, the Sanpete County Planning Commission granted a conditional-use permit to Matthew and Amy Werling, a Murray couple looking to develop 15 acres into a solar energy farm about two miles northwest of Fairview.
The Werlings purchased the land two years ago with the idea of building the solar farm.
As presented to the planning commission, the 15-acre solar farm would be capable of generating 2-3 megawatts, which would be sold for 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to around 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour charged by most power companies.
They hope to be able to sell the power locally.
The permit they received, as described by Sanpete County Zoning Administrator Scott Olsen, was “sort of preliminary.”
Olsen said the Werlings didn’t have a lot of details to their plan yet. More, “They were looking for the potential to do it on the property.”
The Werlings on Tuesday indicated that was a fair description. Amy Werling said they couldn’t really proceed with development plans until they have an investor and a buyer both. But they were likely to get neither unless they could show, a la the conditional-use permit, that they at least had permission for the venture.
“Baby steps all the way,” Amy Werling said. “We have an investor that’s interested in the whole project. All we’re waiting for is getting a buyer completely squared away. After we have the buyer, then we can look at all the developers and find the best price for the investor.”
Part of the equation going into the decision to build the solar farm are incentives that have been made available to solar businesses as part of Gov. Herbert’s “Advancing Urban and Rural Partnerships” job-creation and economic-development program, announced by the Governor last February.
The incentives, said Amy Werling, would go to the investor.
The jobs are a little up in the air, Matthew Werling admitted.
“Our researcher told us in in initial stages it would bring around 200 [jobs] during development,” he said—in other words, construction and installation workers.
“After that,” Matthew Werling said, “there’s a little trickle-down effect. It’s going to draw more people to the area to live there.”
The couple is banking on the idea that people will increasingly be drawn to live in places powered by renewable energy—that it becomes a kind of lifestyle issue.
But also a cost issue.
“Most people aren’t concerned about the type of power they get, most people are concerned about the costs,” Matthew Werling said.
Indeed, with the decline of coal and the growing popularity of renewable sources, solar-energy costs are going down, and projections are that it will continue do so.
The permanent jobs established would be the kind created naturally through the population growth that would come with solar energy as a draw.
The next step, they said, is to find a buyer.
Once that’s done, they’ll be able to draw up detailed plans they’ll need to they’ll need to show the planning commission within one year as one condition of keeping the permit.
Another condition, of course, would be the commission’s acceptance of those plans.
Commissioner Gene Jacobson asked about security fencing, fire hazards and potential impacts upon neighbors.
The Werlings said eventual plans would include security fencing designed to keep out wildlife and children, and that the site would be landscaped to keep plants from growing underneath the solar arrays, which could become a fire hazard.
They also told the commission the site was located away from any other buildings and it was at least a half mile away from U.S. 89, and, to the Messenger on Tuesday, said the solar farm wouldn’t really be visible from the road, and would not present a bright-reflection danger to drivers.
The Werlings have their eye on nearby Fairview as a potential solar-energy buyer.
Alan Naumann, an energy consultant with Rocky Mountain Renewable Energy, attended the planning commission hearing with the Werlings. He said he was planning to meet with Fairview City Manager Dave Taylor to discuss the possibility of Fairview purchasing the energy. He also was looking toward meeting with officials from the North Sanpete School District in the near future.
Naumann said it was unlikely his own company, Rocky Mountain Power, would buy the energy since the company was offering to purchase solar power at only 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, a rate too low for the venture to operate at a profit.