A "utility-scale" solar power-generating project is planned on fallow farmland immediately west of the Town of Marana limits.
As the project moves forward, the Town of Marana is proceeding with the gathering of information to contemplate annexing the parcel — and three other adjacent properties totaling 384 acres — south of Twin Peaks Road, west of Sanders Road and north of Emigh Road.
"We're looking at this as an opportunity," Marana director of development services Kevin Kish told the Marana Town Council on March 2. "We want to be progressive, innovative, and try to secure these types of cutting-edge industries within the town of Marana."
Fotowatio Renewable Ventures of San Francisco is leasing the former Chu Farm, approximately 305 acres purchased by the city of Tucson for its water rights and subsequently left idle, for a 25-megawatt, ground-mounted photovoltaic system.
The project "may be one of the largest solar plants in the nation," according to information provided to the Tucson City Council by Deputy City Manager Richard Miranda. It would produce enough energy to power 4,600 homes, while precluding the production of 48,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of 100 million passenger car miles, Miranda reported.
The project's footprint, with 92,600 photovoltaic modules mounted horizontally on 1,653 units that track the sun, is expected to cover between 200 and 250 acres of the 305-acre parcel. It will include 400 500-kilowatt inverters and 10 transformers.
Lease payments are expected to generate $127,000 per year for Tucson Water during an estimated operation of 20 to 30 years.
Fotowatio proposes to sell the generated solar power to Tucson Electric Power. TEP would count it toward an Arizona Corporations Commission mandate that it obtain 15 percent of its power from renewable sources by the year 2025.
Kish said Marana has initiated annexation of the parcels, one of which is farm ground owned by Vice Mayor Herb Kai, who recused himself from the conversation. Kish said contact has been made with the four landowners, including the city of Tucson. All four "have generally lended their support to the annexation," Kish said.
Information about annexation raised questions for the town council.
"Let me get up to speed here," Councilman Jon Post said. "Are you saying the only reason we're annexing this is to say we have a solar facility in our town?"
"That's one of them," Kish replied. "Also, there are opportunities of collecting revenue," through permitting fees and inspections. He didn't know if Marana might get ongoing money from the solar plant.
"I know solar is the hot ticket out there these days," Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler said. "I don't know what the benefit is to the town."
"If it does entail actual delivery and sale of electricity as a commodity, it would most likely be subject to a transaction privilege tax," town Finance Director Erik Montague told the council. He's uncertain if there is "an exclusion" on the sales tax for a solar power plant.
"I thought solar panels took up so much space, we couldn't do it in the Town of Marana," Councilwoman Carol McGorray said.
"It looks like there are some possibilities," Mayor Ed Honea said. "Maybe a few more answers" are needed.
"We'll bring back the answers," Kish said.
Staff was given permission to further inquire about the annexation, which is being called the Emigh-Sanders annexation. "This project's going to be done whether we annex or not," Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said.
Tucson Water owns 22,000 acres of property in Avra Valley.