PRESCOTT – The Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission granted the Yavapai Ranch several time extensions Wednesday to build the largest wind farm in Arizona.
Two days earlier, the Board of Supervisors approved Yavapai Ranch owner Fred Ruskin’s request for a zoning change for 12,500 homes and 96 acres of commercial development along Williamson Valley Road about 35 miles north of Prescott.
Ruskin told the planning commission Wednesday that the wind farm and a possible astronomical observatory are the “highest priority” for him and his family over the housing development.
Ruskin and NextEra Energy Resources, one of the largest wind farm builders in the country, never submitted a final site plan for the wind farm within the one-year deadline, after originally getting approval for the plan in September 2011.
The planning commission recommended approval for Ruskin’s request for four years to submit a final site plan instead of the current one year; five years instead of two years to get building permits; and eight years to get a certificate of compliance instead of five years.
The 51,000-acre ranch is located about 35 miles north of Prescott. The wind farm proposal consists of a series of 81 lighted wind turbines that are 436 feet tall across a 37,000-acre swath of the land that the Prescott National Forest was supposed to acquire through a land exchange that Ruskin cancelled this year.
The Yavapai Ranch plan also includes solar panels on 160 acres and 35 miles of new roads. The facilities are located on prime pronghorn antelope habitat across 19 of the 33 sections that were part of the land exchange.
Government agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department requested several requirements to protect wildlife in that project, but none were included in the planning commission recommendation.
Federal agencies would require various studies before granting other permits to the wind farm.
NextEra represented Ruskin at last year’s wind farm hearings, but didn’t attend Wednesday’s P&Z hearing. NextEra officials have not returned several calls seeking comment about whether the company is still involved in the project.
“Their (NextEra) exact position here is to me somewhat unclear,” Ruskin told planning commissioners Wednesday. He noted that a federal tax credit for wind farms expires at the end of this year, saying that could affect the future of the project. NextEra had signed an agreement with the Salt River Project to sell SRP the wind farm electricity if it was delivered to its Phoenix customers by the end of 2012.
Planning Commissioner Curtis Lindner said he was concerned that NextEra representatives weren’t attending the hearing.
“I do find (the project) somewhat speculative, as I’ve stated in the past,” Lindner said.
Lindner and Commissioner Joan McClelland, who said she agreed with his comments, voted against the time extension so the vote was 5-2. The request goes to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote.
No one from the public commented at Wednesday’s hearing, although the county did receive two letters of objection.
One neighboring property owner, an amateur astronomer, said he bought the property because of the dark skies. He also worried about wind turbines’ harm to birds and bats.
The other letter came from a group of property owners near NextEra’s huge Perrin Ranch wind farm near Williams, which urged the county to learn more about the project before approving it. That group calls itself the Canyon Country Coalition and it opposed the Perrin Ranch project that the Coconino County Board of Supervisors ultimately approved on a 3-2 vote.
Courier reporter Scott Orr contributed to this story.
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