PRESCOTT – The Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission voted Wednesday to recommend approval of a 5,000-acre wind farm in the northeast corner of the county to the Board of Supervisors, but the project is by no means a shoo-in.
The eight-member commission voted 6-2 to pass along the plan for a minor General Plan amendment and a use permit to the supervisors, with Commissioners Joan McClelland and Curtis Lindner dissenting.
The plant, which would be built by Florida-based NextEra Energy, south of Seligman, would provide 130 megawatts of electricity from 81 turbines 450 feet tall, plus 30 megawatts from a solar facility onsite.
NextEra plans to sell the power to Salt River Project (SRP), the Phoenix-based power company.
A good deal of discussion centered on the fact that the U.S. Forest Service must approve easements for roads and utility lines, something it has already denied, citing a 2005 law that disallows new encumbrances on the land.
“What are we approving here?” Lindner asked.
“It’s my understanding that anything we do here today, or that the Board of Supervisors does, is predicated on the approval of the Forest Service,” said Commissioner Tom Reilly. “If they don’t go ahead, then this use permit goes away.”
NextEra Energy Project Manager Matthew Gomes agreed. “That’s a definite hurdle,” he said. “We have to have a decision before we can start digging anything. We’ve done a lot of outreach with the Forest Service, and they’re pushing back quite a bit.”
Gomes said the latest guidance they had received from the Forest Service was that they needed approval from its parent agency, the Department of Agriculture.
“We are making contact with the folks in (Washington) D.C., to get a face-to-face (meeting) with the secretary of the Department of Agriculture,” he said.
The general consensus was that somebody has to make the first move.
“This project has three jurisdictions,” Gomes said. “If everybody says ‘we want to be the last one,’ nothing gets done.”
McClelland, while expressing support for the wind-turbine portion of the plant, was strongly opposed to the solar array.
Installing a large solar array “would totally destroy the use of the land,” she said.
“The solar part is an option,” Gomes said, adding that the power contracted to be sold to SRP would come entirely from the wind turbines.
“You can still use the land (if it has wind turbines),” McClelland said. “But I don’t think this is the best use for the land, to put the solar on it. It doesn’t belong on it. It belongs in a ‘built’ environment or on land that’s already been degraded.”
Two people spoke to the commission in opposition to the plant because of its proximity to their property.
“This particular area is one of the most remote areas of the county,” said Reilly. “If we’re going to embrace wind energy in this country, it’s got to go somewhere. If it has to go in everybody else’s backyard, well, this backyard is far enough from everybody else.”
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