Both the Torrance County Commission and the Moriarty City Council approved measures Wednesday to advance the development of a 50-megawatt, solar power generating facility.

The 520-acre site on the south side of Route 66 and west of County Road A107 lies partially within the western border of Moriarty, with about 80 percent of the project in unincorporated Torrance County. It will be known as the Britton Solar Energy Center.

Approval is still needed from school boards as they would receive a payment in lieu of taxes. Payments would be made to Torrance County and to the City of Moriarty as well, in lieu of taxes, as part of an Industrial Revenue Bond agreement. The amount of those payments was not specified.

Following a presentation and explanation of the project at the Torrance County meeting there were no questions from the commissioners. Myra Pancrazio, executive director for the Estancia Valley Economic Development Association, spoke in favor of the project.

Torrance County Commission’s newly elected chair Ryan Schwebach moved to approve the “inducement resolution,” a non-binding intent to further the project. It was seconded by commissioner Kevin McCall and the board voted unanimously to approve.

At the Moriarty City Council meeting, a zoning change for the land within the city was approved unanimously.

Concerning the city’s inducement resolution, Councilor Dennis Shanfeldt asked how the payment in lieu of taxes would be apportioned. It was clarified by Eddie Dolphy, agent for the project bond issue, that the city would receive a payment and the school district would receive a separate payment.

Pancrazio added that an impact study would be completed which would estimate the financial benefit of the project.

On a previous, similar project, a benefit of $1.5 million was estimated for a 1 mega-watt facility over a 10-year period. EVEDA supports the project, she said.

A motion was made by Councilor Steve Anaya to approve. It was seconded by Shanfeldt and passed unanimously.

The target date to have the solar array online is Dec. 1 this year, according to project engineer Brian Reindl.

PNM Resources director Gary Barnard explained that the project is the result of an agreement that brought Facebook to Los Lunas. He said Facebook wants to offset its power usage with renewable electrical production and will guarantee the bond issues required to fund the project.

Both Torrance County and Moriarty will be guided through the bond issue process. The bond issue is designed to provide relief to PNMR for both property tax and gross receipts tax for the project, Barnard said. For Torrance County, the bond will be for $60 million; for Moriarty, it will be $15 million. Those amounts will be paid by PNMR.

Laurie Moye, representative for Select Right of Way, which is an agent for PNMR Development and Management Corporation, explained at the Torrance County meeting, “The purpose of the project is to assist in meeting the increased demand for clean, cost effective, renewable energy for the region and New Mexico. The energy will be added to the local transmission grid to be used to power homes, businesses and other needs of the local community…”

Moye said that, while other sites had been evaluated in Torrance and Valencia counties, this location was selected because, in addition to meeting “solar and layout requirements … this location offers the ability to connect with the grid because the solar facility will connect with the transmission system at the Britton Switching Station.”

Moye said the project will create 200 temporary construction jobs which will last 8 to 9 months. There will be no workers stationed at the site as it will be operated remotely.

The plan includes retention ponds to prevent excessive water flow to adjacent lands, and the entire site will be protected by an 8-foot chain link fence with controlled access.

The solar panels would be mounted on horizontal racks which are attached to posts in the ground and will be 6 feet, 8 inches tall at their highest position. They will track the sun throughout the day, facing east in the morning and slowly moving to face west as the sun sets.