WILLIAMS – After two days of hearings and appeals Feb. 7 and 8, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors approved plans for the development of a wind farm on Perrin Ranch located 13 miles north of Williams and west of Highway 64.
The Coconino County Planning and Zoning Commission previously approved the project with a unanimous vote Dec. 17.
In a split decision, Supervisors Carl Taylor, Mandy Metzger and Lena Fowler voted to allow the project to move forward while Matt Ryan and Liz Archuleta voted against the project.
Coconino County Community Development Director Bill Towler said the decision came down to the wire.
“In fact, it could have gone the other way,” he said. “I can tell you that the neighboring property owners did a spectacular job and I’m sure that’s what swayed the two supervisors. Compared to NextEra they were much more professional. They really did their homework. They put together a lot of great material and their presentation was really good.”
The decision comes after an appeal from residents living in the vicinity of the wind farm and a separate appeal filed by NextEra Energy Re-sources, the project’s developer.
The first day of hearings included presentations from County staff and both appellants along with a public hearing allowing citizens to testify regarding the energy project. On day two, staff and appellants were provided an opportunity to respond to the previous evening’s proceedings followed by closing presentations.
Supervisor Carl Taylor said, before voting, the board reviewed five different versions of the project’s Conditional Use Permit including county staff’s original recommendation, revised recommendations from P&Z, suggested changes from Next Era, suggested changes from citizens groups and changes suggested by Taylor himself.
“It got a little complicated trying to compare all the different versions,” Taylor said. “That took a long time.”
The Board finally settled on 22 final conditions included with their decision.
Three alternate tower sites were eliminated near Howard Mesa. During known bat migration periods, the turbines will be required to be shut down. The Board also required NextEra to also install a radar activated lighting system on the towers. The system, not currently approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, is designed to keep the towers dark before activating lights on the towers when a plane is detected in the area.
“They have over 750,000 hours of operation in the world and they are available,” Taylor said. “It’s up to the developer to work out issues with liability and performance with the vendor. But, the good news for the citizens is that system will be in place and on the day that the FAA blesses it, it can be activated.”
According to Towler, the OCAS, or Obstacle Collision Lighting System, will be installed at a $2 million expense to NextEra.
“If the FAA doesn’t approve it, too bad,” he said.
The FAA approved the system once in 2009 before the approval was put on hold. Towler said the company behind the system is very confident the system will be approved within the next six months.
“I spent quite a bit of time talking to the company,” Towler said. “Obviously, they want NextEra’s business in the future.”
Steve Stengel, director of communications for NextEra, said NextEra officials are happy with the board’s decision but that some of the conditions are of concern, including the required radar lighting system.
“This was a very thorough process,” Stengel said. “We’re obviously pleased that the project was approved. Candidly, we are somewhat concerned. We think that the county assumed a lot of risk by mandating the OCAS system that isn’t proven. If that system doesn’t work, we believe there is a lot of risk and liability associated with that for the county.”
Stengel went on to say that through the public consultation process the project was improved.
“We listened to what people had to say and made some modifications based on that feedback. We think it’s a very good project and ultimately we think with the positive vote that we received, that the majority of the Board agrees with that as well.”
Towler said the appealing community groups did not in the end get many of their requests included in the 22 final provisions.
Linda Webb, Howard Mesa Ranch Home Association president and opponent of the project, said she was pleased with the amount of information the Board took into consideration before making their decision.
“We were very heartened by the fact that Liz Archuleta and Matt Ryan both voted against it on different points,” she said. “But, we were disappointed with the decision. It was awfully close.”
Supervisor Matt Ryan voted against the project although he said it was a tough decision. He cited the Red Lake Area Plan as one of the deciding factors in his decision.
“The portion of the application that fell within the Red Lake Area Plan boundaries was in conflict with the goals and objectives of the area plan, including objectives to protect the viewsheds along Gateway Corridor to the Grand Canyon and Highway 64,” he said.
According to Taylor, the Board also encouraged NextEra to work with residents in the area to develop a property value guarantee instrument similar to an agreement he said NextEra reached with property owners near a wind project the company completed in Illinois.
“My advice was if you guys are going to be in proximity to each other for 30 years, this would be an important gesture,” Taylor said.
Taylor went on to say he felt the project will be a model wind farm without unduly impacting nearby residents visually or audibly.
“My hope is that given the control of the lights and the removal of these things to where they are way out of range in terms of sound disturbance, that people will pretty rapidly say ‘no big deal.’ That’s my hope,” Taylor said.
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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