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Master plan to accommodate energy storage

The moves to develop much of the Eldorado Valley for solar energy uses that has brought Boulder City millions of dollars in lease revenue — enough to make it feasible for a city of just 15,000 souls to consider spending upward of $40 million on a new municipal pool complex — took another step forward on May 28 as the city council voted unanimously to amend the master plan and zoning map that would allow for the creation of a battery-based energy storage facility.

“The city owns approximately 293.89 acres in the Eldorado Valley,” said acting City Manager Michael Mays in introduction of a resolution to amend those documents. “This is south of the I-11 interchange along U.S. Highway 95. The city would like to come before the council with potential leases for either battery storage or solar uses. However the current master plan and zoning does not comport to those uses. And so, we’re seeking council consideration of the amendment to the master plan.”

According to maps that were part of the council packet, the land in question is currently a mix of manufacturing and open land zoning. (The area in question also surrounds on three sides, the small plot of land that is currently in the process of being annexed, referred to in the story on page 6. Under current plans, that plot would maintain the manufacturing designation.)

The process of changing the master plan and zoning map requires that the planning commission hold neighborhood meetings and vote on the proposed changes. Mays notes that the required meetings had taken place in April of this year and that no public comment was submitted. The planning commission voted 4-1 in favor of the change.

Mayor Joe Hardy opened the required public hearing after there were no questions from the council.

“We’ll open up the public hearing on the master plan amendment and the zoning map amendment and I fully expect the former mayor to stand up and take some credit for the challenges we faced in the past and our opportunities we’ve got in the future,” he said.

Hardy was referring to former mayor Eric Lundgaard. “We have former Mayor Lundgaard in the audience and he has been instrumental in putting us in a position where we can actually vote on something we’re talking about today.”

Lundgaard was mayor at the time and spearheaded Boulder City’s purchase of enough land in the Eldorado Valley to make small town BC actually the largest city in Nevada in terms of acreage.

Lundgaard declined to speak at that point in the meeting but addressed the council later and referenced both the proposed energy storage facility and the intent of purchasing the land in the first place.

“I’m feeling concerned about the solar facilities that are going in down there,” he said. He proceeded to quote a Las Vegas Sun article from a couple of weeks earlier pointing out that lithium-ion batteries —which would be used in any energy storage project until and unless the industry comes up with a cheaper, more efficient or safer alternative —are flammable. A Clemson University study in 2023 pointed out that an EV burns at about 5,000 degrees due to the lithium-ion battery where a gasoline-powered vehicle, were it to catch fire, burns at about 1,500 degrees.

In March of this year in the Bronx area of New York City, at least seven people were injured in a five-alarm fire that required the attention of 200 firefighters that stemmed from the lithium-ion battery in an electric scooter on the roof of the building.

“In all of these fires, these lithium-ion fires, it is not a slow burn; there’s not a small amount of fire, it literally explodes,” FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh told reporters. “It’s a tremendous volume of fire as soon as it happens, and it’s very difficult to extinguish and so it’s particularly dangerous.”

“Those kinds of things are causing me to be concerned about battery storage down in the valley,” Lundgaard said. “That is an area that is near and dear to my heart, because I thought we were going to avoid having a lot of industrial development down there.”

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