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County supervisors give green light to wind farm

PRESCOTT – The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors has approved, on a 2-0 vote, a zoning change to allow a proposed 5,000-acre wind farm to be built in the northwest corner of the county.

Supervisor Chip Davis, district 3, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The plant would be built by Florida-based NextEra Energy south of Seligman, and would provide 130 megawatts of electricity from about 81 wind turbines 450 feet tall, plus 30 megawatts from a solar facility on site.

NextEra plans to sell the power to Salt River Project (SRP), the Phoenix-based power company.

NextEra has had solid public support for the plant, which, according to company estimates, would employ 200-300 local workers during the construction of the plant, a phase that would last two years. Once complete, it will take seven to 10 people to operate the plant.

The company claims it will pay $3.8 million in property taxes and $19 million in salaries and other labor payments over the first 25 years of the project.

One major hurdle for the project has been the fact that the U.S. Forest Service must approve easements for roads and utility lines, something it had denied, citing a 2005 law that disallows new encumbrances on the land.

But NextEra Energy Project Manager Matthew Gomes said that issue, for which the company had initially been told only the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture could grant a waiver, could be headed for a resolution.

“We went to (Washington) D.C. to talk with (the U.S. Forest Service leadership) last Tuesday. It’s definitely a discussion in progress,” he said.

“I’m confident, because this project has a lot of stuff that’s turning out for us,” Gomes said. “I just think that God’s smiling on this project a little bit. I hope that continues.”

There were just three people at the supervisors’ meeting opposed to the project.

After Gomes made a presentation on the company and the plant, Tom Thurman, district 2 supervisor, explained how he would vote.

“Viewshed is my concern,” said Thurman. “One of your competitors came in and was going to do the same type of project in the Paulden area. I had heartburn over that, because that could have been very detrimental to the viewshed.”

But, he added, “I went out there (to the NextEra site). I looked to see where these (turbines) were – I went up on hills all the way around the place to see what the viewshed is.”

Satisfied that the visual impact would be minimal, he moved to approve the plant.

Board Chairman Supervisor Carol Springer, District 1, had previously submitted a letter expressing support for the plant.

They voted 2-0 in favor of the needed zoning changes to allow it.