by Robb Davis, Joe Krovoza, Ann Evans, Mike Corbett and Bill Kopper
On March 24, the City Council voted 4-1 to direct the city manager to execute a Lease Option with BrightNight LLC for 235 acres of City-owned land near the City’s wastewater treatment plant. The Lease Option is a particularly bad deal for the City. It provides a five-year option at $5000.00 per year, followed by a 49-year lease at approximately $80,000 per year, with a 2% per year rent escalator.
The Lease Option provides BrightNight with agriculture land lease rates, which are about $350 per acre. BrightNight’s proposed land use, however, is for solar collectors. Typical solar project lease rates are $1,000 per acre. Most solar project leases are for 25 years, not 49 years.
The City Council made several serious errors in approving the Lease Option. The city failed to issue an open request for proposals to obtain the best offer for a solar-electric facility on its property. Such RFPs should be standard procedure for local government agencies.
The city also failed to ensure that any power generated by the solar project would first be sold to Valley Clean Energy Agency (VCEA), which provides electric power to Davis citizens. Indeed, the potential for electricity generation at the site and subsequent purchase by VCEA was never brought before the VCEA Board for discussion. This despite the fact that Davis is a founding member of VCEA. Instead, the electric power will go into the grid. Finally, the City Council made the decision in a hurry, without a full public hearing and input from the City’s Utilities Commission.
The City Council needs to void the Lease Option and start over. This time there should be input from Davis citizens about the use of the 235 acres, and if a decision is made to proceed with a solar project, there should be a request for proposals.