Green project closer to green light in Tracy, California

Nov 22 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Jennie Rodriguez The Record, Stockton, Calif.

A proposed solar farm west of Tracy, California is closer to expanding onto city-owned property and beginning to produce clean energy.

The city is planning to sell 50 acres and lease 150 acres to GWF Power so the company can expand its peaker power plant with a solar farm.

On Tuesday, City Council members voted unanimously on a lease agreement with purchase options. Construction is expected to generate 400 jobs.

The conversion should increase the plant's capacity from 170 megawatts to more than 300 megawatts. The solar farm is expected to produce 30 megawatts.

GWF will pay the city a $100,000, nonrefundable deposit to secure the site; a $1 million public benefit fee; and rent payments of as much as $425,000 per year.

City Manger Leon Churchill said that money will go into the general fund, which is used for operating expenses, such as public safety salaries, community programs and park maintenance.

As part of the deal, the company is funding an energy efficiency training certificate program in Tracy.

"We think the financial benefits are good," Churchill said. "The other benefit, I think, it continues to put a bigger footprint for city as being hospitable to renewable energy."

GWF's revamped power plant supports the city's environmental and sustainability strategy, which encompasses measures to reduce energy consumption and waste; the development of a sustainability action plan; and efforts that encourage renewable and alternative energy uses.

The solar project also contributes to meeting the state's renewable energy goal to have 33 percent of electricity produced from renewable sources by 2020.

GWF is weighing two methods -- solar thermal technology or solar photovoltaic technology -- which will either generate electricity for the grid or produce energy to power the plant more cleanly.

Churchill said the company has agreed to proceed with mitigation measures that will lessen environmental impacts, such as a construction emissions reduction plan and pay fees associated with impacts on biological resources.

There is, however, one hurdle for the project to clear before it can move forward. The city-owned site where the solar farm is to be installed is designated by the federal government for recreational use or for the building of a school.

Proposed federal changes that would reclassify the land are supported by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and are expected to pass by early next year.

Assuming the amendments take place, construction on the solar farm would start in the spring, Churchill said.