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Published: 3/4/2012

California solar developer looks to build in Erie

Silverado Power considering energy fields along Sterns Rd.

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

ERIE, Mich. — A California solar developer is in discussions with property owners in southern Monroe County to build a large-scale solar farm operation on several hundred acres of land.

San Francisco-based Silverado Power Co. has been talking with Erie Township officials about the zoning process needed to locate a renewable energy field along Sterns Road between Telegraph Road and Dixie Highway.

The same firm also had been looking at the 320-acre former Dana Corp. test track site on Yankee Road in Whiteford Township, but discussions with the owners ended without a deal coming together.

Michael Demski, Erie Township building inspector, said a Silverado Power representative submitted preliminary plans for the project recently after an exchange of phone calls with the company during the last month.

"We don't consider it official yet. It is preliminary information," Mr. Demski said. "I had phone calls from about four different people with the company."

According to the plans, the photovoltaic installation would be built on about 380 acres between Telegraph Road and Dixie Highway, south of Erie. All but 95 acres of the farmland is zoned for industrial purposes.

John Cheney, chief executive officer of Silverado Power, which claims to be the nation's largest independent solar power development company, couldn't be reached for an interview.

Mr. Demski said he didn't know whether the company is serious about locating the project in the township, if it had obtained a purchase agreement with an electric utility, or about the development's planned output. He said the company told him that each panel will be 6 to 7 feet high.

Preliminary design plans indicate that about four acres at the extreme west end of the project lie in Bedford Township. Planning officials in the township said they have not been contacted by Silverado Power.

The land is owned by the LAC Trust, which, according to township officials, was formed by members of the Cousino family who have farmed the land for many years.

The 285 acres of industrial-zoned property is listed with Lennex Realty Co. for $4.79 million.

Because the township zoning ordinance doesn't include classifications for solar development, Mr. Demski said he has asked the township zoning consultant, Poggemeyer Design Group, to assist in zoning issues for the potential project.

"I have been trying to do as much research as I can to figure out what it is all about," he said.

According to the company's Web site, Silverado strives to cooperate with local governments in the early stages of planning for projects to comply with zoning requirements and environmental concerns.

"Our projects favor the use of photovoltaic technology, providing minimal disruption to the land. Our panels are scalable and customizable to fit each project as determined by our in-house experts. We are continuously searching for new, innovative, and entrepreneurial ideas to achieve the mutual goal of turning unused property into a clean energy asset for your community," the business description states.

In 2010, Silverado Power and five other solar developers signed contracts with Southern California Edison for 15 projects totaling 144 megawatts of capacity. The projects will begin operating in 2013 and 2014.

Michael Jones, a managing member of MITRP LLC, which purchased the Dana property in November, 2010, said Silverado Power discussed using the test track site. However, he said a solar field wouldn't be a good fit for the project because of the existing track configuration. "We have talked to them. But there was nothing more than a discussion," Mr. Jones said. "These solar farms take a lot of land, and it all has to make sense."

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.



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