SAN LUIS, Ariz. – The city council here gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a proposal to convert wind to electricity inside two towers that would stand thousands of feet in height on the city’s southwest corner.
The council voted 7-0 to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would rezone 1,760 acres of agricultural land to heavy industrial use, allowing for construction of the towers by Clean Wind Energy.
The Maryland-based company’s president and CEO, Ronald Pickett, has said the towers would reach nearly 3,000 feet into the air and would use desalinated water piped from the Sea of Cortez to cool hot, dry air, which in turn would fall through the shafts at high speed, driving turbines that would produce electricity for sale in California and Arizona.
Pickett has said the project would employ 2,500 temporarily in the construction phase, and then 1,000 permanently in each of the two towers, which would be located inside city limits and next to the Mexican border.
Unlike at a prior San Luis Planning and Zoning Commission at which the proposal was presented, Wednesday’s meeting brought out no opposition to the project.
In response to a question by one Somerton resident, Pickett said the company would be able to stabilize the foundation of the towers to be able to support the weight and size of the structure.
Mayor Gerardo Sanchez raised questions about whether a financial commitment would be required for the towers. Pickett said the project would be funded entirely through private investors.
In response to another question, Pickett said Clean Wind Energy currently is in negotiations with three separate Mexican agencies to secure approval to bring the water up from the Sea of Cortez. Previously the company said it planned to desalinate the water at the site of the towers, but Pickett said Wednesday plans now call for the desalting process to take place in Mexico prior to piping the water north of the border.
The site of the proposed towers, located south of County 25th Street and between Avenues A and C, is federal land that the company proposes to lease from the Bureau of Reclamation.
The proposed ordinance change allowing the towers is scheduled to return to the council at its next meeting in two weeks for a second reading and possible approval, said Sharon Williams, the city’s development services director. If approved then, the rezoning would take effect 30 days later.
Clean Wind Energy then would be required to conduct an environmental impact study for the project, a process that could take up to 18 months.
After that, said Williams, the firm would have to reappear before the planning and zoning commission to request a conditional use permit to allow for construction of the towers.
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