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County approves more time for huge wind farm at Yavapai Ranch

PRESCOTT – The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors on Monday gave the Yavapai Ranch several more years to make the state’s largest proposed wind farm a reality.

The vote was 2-1 with Supervisor Chip Davis opposing the extension of time to move forward with the plan.

“I don’t believe it’s a proper use of the property myself,” Davis said.

The remote 51,000-acre ranch is located along Williamson Valley Road about 35 miles north of Prescott.

Landowner Fred Ruskin and NextEra Energy Resources, one of the country’s largest wind power companies, didn’t meet the one-year deadline to return to the county with a final site plan.

The supervisors granted Ruskin’s request Monday 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.

NextEra Energy Resources represented Ruskin at last year’s wind farm hearings, but didn’t attend Monday’s hearing. NextEra officials have not returned several calls seeking comment about whether the company is still involved in the project.

The wind farm proposal consists of 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.

Davis tried to add a stipulation Monday requiring Ruskin to improve the nearby Williamson Valley Road, saying transporting the huge wind tower components to the construction site would beat up the county road.

However, the other two supervisors wouldn’t agree to that.

“It would kill the project,” Supervisor Tom Thurman said, because of the cost.

Navajo County has large wind farms and it didn’t require improvements to county roads, Thurman said.

The only large wind farm project in Navajo County at the Dry Lake site didn’t have any county access roads, Navajo County Planning and Zoning Manager Trent Larson said.

Navajo does have an ordinance dealing specifically with commercial wind farms that contains setback, bonding and other requirements. Yavapai doesn’t have such an ordinance.

Proposals for large wind farms in Navajo and Coconino counties have generated sizable opposition from neighbors at public hearings.

Neighbors of NextEra’s Perrin Ranch wind farm near Williams sent a letter to Yavapai County warning it to learn more about the project before approving it.

However, no one complained about the Yavapai Ranch wind farm during Monday’s public hearing.

Two people sent new letters of opposition to the Yavapai Ranch wind farm, including one neighbor.

Neighbor Cody Lundin, a local outdoor survival instructor and star of the Dual Survival TV show on the Discovery Channel, sent a long letter of opposition.

Lundin said he bought his property for its “remoteness, dark skies, quiet and wildlife.” He expressed concern about a decrease in property values, unfair tax advantages for wind power facilities, and adverse affects on wildlife and their habitat. Studies have shown wind farms kill birds and bats, he noted.

“Hopefully the board will wise up to the Ruskin shotgun technique of seeing what will ‘stick’ at the expense of others,” Lundin added.

He was referring to Ruskin’s other recent application for 12,500 homes and 96 acres of commercial development at the Yavapai Ranch, which the board also approved last month.

A previous letter of opposition came from another neighbor who feared the loss of dark skies.