Future Watauga Solar site

A 20-acre tract of capped landfill is in the development stages for solar panels on the property.

BOONE — A potential 25-plus year extension of a land lease agreement with Watauga Solar would pave the way for construction of a solar array on the buildable portions of a 20-acre capped landfill at the Watauga County Solid Waste and Recycling Center.

The lease extension, which was presented at the meeting, will be discussed further by staff and re-proposed at a future commissioners’ meeting with adjusted terms.

The previous lease agreement with Watauga Solar was made in September 2010 after a bidding process. The original contract went one year, plus nine more years in one-year renewal increments.

The new proposal by Watauga Solar was to extend the contract to 25 years, plus, four potential automatic renewal periods of five years each. According to Ged Moody of Watauga Solar, the long-term lease extension will lead to engineering and construction of as much solar as the tract can safely hold.

“We always knew that when the project would be built, it would be extended,” Moody said. “In order to make the economics work, you need a (lease) period of 25-30 years. Without a lease, you can’t guarantee a lender. This is very customary.”

Moody said that since 2010, Watauga Solar has been in development, as well as waiting for the right economics.

“There haven’t always been a good economic opportunity (for solar),” Moody said. “Solar is now a cheaper deal.”

Out of the 20 acres, Moody said that roughly half the land is unsuitable to solar due to the hilly terrain, but they won’t know how much of the property can be developed or how big the array can be until after engineering is done.

Once completed, Moody says the hope is to sell the solar back to Watauga County to stabilize electricity costs, a point County Manager Deron Geouque made during the meeting.

“When the county saves money, they have other money to do other programs,” Moody said. “Being able to predict energy costs is a good thing.”

Geouque and Commissioner Billy Kennedy were cautious about the proposed length of the contract, specifically the automatic renewal periods, with Geouque saying he would like to renegotiate the contract after 25 years.

Derek Moretz and Moody with Watauga Solar told the commissioners that the life of the operating equipment is longer than 25 years, hence the automatic renewal periods. Moretz offered to pay more than the $1,000 per acre per year as a compromise, mentioning $1,500 as a new yearly rent per acre.

Moretz noted long-term stability in the electric rate would be a separate contract, planned to be brought up at the next commissioners’ meeting after working with the local electricity utility Blue Ridge Energy. Commissioner Larry Turnbow stressed the urgency of getting a potential project under way.

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