WILLIAMS, Ariz. – Drive north on Highway 64 and about 13 miles outside Williams wind turbines begin to pop up west of the roadway. The spinning turbines – 64 in all – are part of the recently completed Perrin Ranch wind project. Not everyone though is happy about the installation of the renewable energy project.
Many residents of the Junipine Estates and Howard Mesa subdivisions, including John Lee, feel that the project completed by NextEra Wind Energy has destroyed one of the main reasons many of them moved to the area. The wide-open space and the view that comes with it.
“You can see (the turbines) all across our community,” Lee said.
Lee contends the county did not complete enough research before a final decision was made. He said the county bought a “sales pitch” from NextEra regarding impacts to residents’ views.
“The general feeling out here is that the county has left us completely out of the process,” Lee said. “This whole thing from the beginning was fast tracked. I think they just saw the dollar signs with the tax revenue they could bring in and they didn’t have any concern about what it is going to do to the people.”
Linda Webb, a Howard Mesa resident and outspoken critic of the Perrin project, said the county tried to include residents in the process to a point.
“I think what happened was, it was a done deal,” she said. “I don’t think anything anyone did, short of taking them to court, which we couldn’t afford to do, would have stopped it.”
County Supervisor Matt Ryan said he understands some of Lee and Webb’s frustration.
“Seeing the area prior to the wind turbines and seeing the wind turbines themselves, you can see where people are concerned,” Ryan said, “They had an unabated view before and now there are wind turbines there. That’s a struggle we’re still wrestling with.”
Ryan said there are three overarching values in the county’s comprehensive plan – protection of wildlife, conservation of view sheds and the promotion of alternative energy sources.
“They’re in conflict with each other,” Ryan said.
County staff is currently wrapping up work on an energy element to the comprehensive plan. Coconino County Interim Community Development Director Sue Pratt, in conjunction with a community stakeholder group, is developing the component.
Webb said the process was necessary but that the group was mostly comprised of energy company and environmental agency representatives.
“I was the only one in the group that was just a citizen,” she said. “The only person from the community.”
She said the county is caught between a rock and a hard place.
“(Renewable energy) has been mandated by political groups and the state,” Webb said. “They’re trying to do a balancing act between what is appropriate for this county and what isn’t and what is required.”
After two days of hearings and appeals in February of last year, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors approved plans for the development of the Perrin wind project.
The Coconino County Planning and Zoning Commission previously approved the project with a unanimous vote.
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.
Ryan 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 view sheds along Gateway Corridor to the Grand Canyon and Highway 64,” he said.
Ryan added that the county included numerous conditions based on community input before eventually allowing the Perrin Ranch wind project to move forward. For instance, the closest turbine to any residence was originally proposed to be one mile but was moved to two miles.
Despite the added conditions placed on NextEra, many residents remain angry that the project has come to fruition.
“You know, they’re frustrated because they’re looking at turbines and they don’t want to look at turbines,” Ryan said, adding that the Planning and Zoning Commission has spent a fair amount of time listening to their concerns.
While there is talk of a number of wind projects along Highway 64, there is only one project – on the McNelly Ranch – currently being considered by the county for approval.