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Comment times set for wind towers near San Luis

SAN LUIS, Ariz. – Residents here will get three opportunities beginning Tuesday to comment on a proposal to convert wind to electricity in two towers in the city.

The San Luis Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 1090 E. Union St., on a proposed amendment to the city’s general plan to allow a Maryland firm, Clean Wind Energy, to erect towers on the city’s east side near the Mexican border.

The towers would use desalted 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, under the firm’s proposal.

The towers, which could reach thousands of feet into the sky, would be located on 1,760 acres of federal land south County 26th Street and between Avenues A and C. Clean Wind Energy proposes to lease the land from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Earlier this year, the planning and zoning commission and the city council approved the company’s request to rezone half of the site from agricultural to industrial use to allow for the towers. The remaining 880-acre half of the site that is sought for the project must be rezoned as part of an amendment to the general plan, according to Clean Wind Energy’s attorney, Barry Olsen.

Following Tuesday’s public hearing and another on Oct. 16, the proposed amendment is scheduled to go before the city council on Nov. 14 for possible approval, said Sharon Williams, the city’s Development Services director. The public will also have an opportunity to comment on the towers at the council session.

The company’s president and CEO, Ronald Pickett, initially said the towers would reach about 3,000 feet high, prompting skepticism about the feasibility of the project among some area residents and observers. More recently he has said 3,000 feet would be the maximum height but that the towers could end up being shorter.

The public hearings on the energy proposal are required as part of the process for amending the general plan, which serves as a guide for land use in the city. The first in the series of hearings took place last week, during which Olsen spoke about the towers project for the Maryland firm.

At the same time it proceeds through the steps of securing the general plan amendment, it is working on the project design and lining up private investors, he said.

“This project will not require the resources or the services of the city,” he said, “and government funds will not be involved.”

Company officials estimate construction of the towers would take place over an eight- to 10-year period, employing about 2,500 workers. After that, the two towers would employ about 1,000 permanently, they say.

Olsen called on residents to give impetus to the energy by voicing their support to federal officials.

“We would like to see the support of the community and for them to contact the local office of Congressman (Raul) Grijalva and the Bureau of Reclamation to express to them that support. We believe the more people from San Luis and from Yuma County who call, the more feasible the project becomes.”

After Tuesday’s hearing, the planning and zoning commission will hold another at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 in the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center in San Luis, 1015 N. Main St.

The public will also have a chance to comment on the project as it comes before the city.

Following approval of the general plan, the firm will be required to do an environmental impact study for the project, Olsen said.