Wind farm gets OK from County; Although appeals are likely, NextEra plans to move forward with project planning
WILLIAMS – It took more than nine hours but Coconino County Planning and Zoning (P&Z) commissioners voted unanimously to approve a wind energy project located 13 miles north of Williams and west of Highway 64.
At almost 3 a.m. Friday, the commission finished reviewing the project to be located on Perrin Ranch and built and managed by NextEra Energy Re-sources, the largest wind energy provider in North America and a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc., owner of Florida Power and Light. The commissioners did change some of the proposal’s language including moving some towers in the northeast corner of the project boundaries away from residences.
Many residents living in the project’s vicinity have questioned the project’s energy viability as well as impacts to wildlife and “viewscape.”
Close to 100 people attended the P&Z meeting including NextEra representatives.
Steve Stengel, director of communications for NextEra, said the company is pleased with the unanimous P&Z vote.
“I think it is important to note that it was a unanimous vote that we received last week and we’ve said all along that we felt like this was a very good project and one that Coconino County could be very proud of,” he said. “We think that last week’s vote to some extent was a recognition of the hard work that our team has done and the fact that they do believe that this will be a very good project for Coconino County.”
NextEra still requires regulatory approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission. An appeal of the P&Z decision is also likely.
In the meantime, Stengel said NextEra will continue to move forward developing and working on the project with a goal of beginning construction in 2011 with the project operational by the end of the year.
“The P&Z vote was an important milestone for the project,” Stengel said.
Linda Webb, Howard Mesa Ranch Home Association president and opponent of the project, said the P&Z Commission did take into consideration many of the issues raised by those in the community opposed to the project.
“We were very, very pleased with the number of conditions and serious discussion and questions the commissioners had,” Webb said. “We were very disappointed in their final decision.”
Webb went on to say she had hoped the commission would hold off on a decision until a new county plan is developed. She expects an appeal to be filed on behalf of two opposition groups, Canyon Country Coalition for Responsible Renewable Energy and Save Our Wide Open Spaces before the Opponents of the wind project continue to question the viability of a wind farm on Perrin Ranch. Webb said during last week’s hearing, NextEra representatives failed to adequately convey just how much energy will be produced once the facility is operational.
“NextEra dodged the whole question of how much energy will actually be produced when they were directly asked by the commissioners,” Webb said. “So, we still haven’t had a solid answer from them.”
Stengel said the project will produce plenty of energy.
“We have over 20 years of experience in the wind business,” Stengel said. “If we didn’t feel that there was sufficient wind there for a viable project, we wouldn’t have proposed it in the first place.”
Coconino County Coconino County Community Development Director Bill Towler said the county received 60 letters regarding the wind farm with only four in support of the project. As far as the outcome of the P&Z meeting is concerned, Towler said NextEra will likely appeal the P&Z decision.
“Just kind of to protect their position, so to speak,” he said. “Especially if there is another appeal, they would also appeal just so they could present their side.”
The proposed turbines, 62 in all, would be approximately 262 feet tall from base to the hub at the center of the blades and over 400 feet to blade tip. The turbines will be spread over 20,000 acres with each turbine taking approximately a half-acre per turbine out of service on Perrin Ranch.
A long term Power Purchase Agreement between Arizona Public Service Co. and NextEra was signed July 22.
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