March 27, 2013

Wind farm seeks county approval

Carol Broeder, Arizona Range News | March 27, 2013 |

A Texas-based company is looking to build a 51-megawatt wind farm in the desert, about 21 miles west of Willcox, near Muleshoe and War Bonnet Ranch Roads.

Glenn Holliday of Houston, Texas, said Torch Renewable Energy, LLC (TRE) is submitting a Special Use Application (SUP) for development of the Red Horse 2 Wind Farm, in a Feb. 21 letter to Cochise County Planning Manager Michael Turisk.

“The proposed project will consists of 21-28 wind turbine generators and produce 51 MW of clean renewable energy to be sold to Tucson Electric Power,” Holliday told the Range News.

The wind turbines will be up to 487 feet in total height, with a blade diameter of 191.5 feet.

The electricity generated by the project will produce enough renewable power to serve about 11,000 homes.

As to the projects economic impact, Holliday said that Red Horse 2 LLC “will invest between $100 – $125 million in infrastructure in Cochise County related to the project.”

“We will source as much local talent and materials as possible during construction,” said Holliday, adding that secondary impacts of about $2.3 million “will be spent in the community during the construction phase for local services and local materials.”

“The project will also create about four long-term stable high paying jobs for local residents,” he said.

“The project will create up to 50 direct jobs to Arizona during construction and hundreds of indirect jobs and revenue from the local economy from out of town consultants during the construction phase,” according to the document, “Project Description and Proposed Use.”

Other economic impacts include increased tax revenue for Cochise County, Holliday said.

Construction is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2013 and commercial operations should commence by the end of 2014.

“The wind farm will create electricity with zero emissions and zero water usage in an arid region,” Holliday said.

Having recently garnered the support of the Willcox City Council, TRE’s proposal is headed to Cochise County Planning and Zoning Commission, probably at its 4 p.m., meeting on Wednesday, April 10.

Jeff Stoddard, with the City’s Development Services Department, recommended that the Council approve the plant’s construction at its March 18 meeting.

In addition to creating the “50 jobs for the construction of this project,” as well as the four jobs for the plant’s operation, Stoddard added that it would “possibly bring other industries related to this project to the Willcox area in the near future.”

At its March 25 meeting, the Council voted unanimously to send its letter of approval to County Planning and Zoning.

In his Feb. 21 letter to Turisk, Holiday explained that the existing conceptual design would aim to comply with County Zoning Regulation 1822: Wind Energy Systems.

“Torch has been working with SWCA on environmental studies for the project since last year,” he told the Range News.

“We have been working with and will continue to work closely with Arizona Game and Fish (AGFD) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to ensure proper study methods are utilized,” Holliday said.

“A complete cultural resource study will be completed in the next few months and the final turbine array will be based on information attained from archaeological and environmental studies,” he said.

Holliday indicated that “the impact to neighboring property owners will be minimal,” with the majority of the of the land surrounding the site owned by the State and “sparsely populated.”

“The nearest property owner to the west of the project is more than two miles from the farthest west wind turbine,” said Holiday, explaining that the Larry Todd family is to the north.

The Todds, who have a lease to graze cattle on the State Land the project proposes to use, “have indicated that they are supportive of this project and may house a turbine on their land,” said Holiday, adding, “TRE is currently in negotiations with the Todds to come to a final agreement.”

“As we have mentioned, we are on a tight development schedule, and hope that the contents of this application are sufficient to be on the meeting agenda for April 10,” he said in his Feb. 21 letter to Turisk.

Wings Over Willcox Event Chairman Homer Hansen said that in general, he is a proponent of wind energy, “primarily those designed for individual residences, ranches, farms – small scale has less of an impact on migratory corridors and it is direct to the source that is using it.”

“Large plants require transmission lines, etc.,” he explained.

In this particular case, Hansen questioned “how can they plan construction in the fourth quarter of 2013 if the avian and bat studies are not expected to be completed until November 2013?”

Holliday responded that avian and bat studies will be complete in October and a Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy (BBCS) and Eagle Conservation Plan (ECP) will be completed by mid-November.

“The purpose of the BBCS is to develop and implement a program to identify and avoid risks to avian and bat species that could result from the construction and operation of the project,” said Holliday, explaining that it would also address “how to avoid and/or minimize impact and provides mitigation measures should impact be expected to occur.”

He told the Range News the ECP’s purpose is to “address the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act definition of ‘disturb,’ and will present advanced conservation practices and compensatory mitigation methods to achieve no-net loss in the eagle population.”

Holliday said that construction is planned to begin by the middle of December and continue through January, consisting mostly of earthwork.

He explained that turbines will be installed in the second quarter of 2014.

“The project schedule provides sufficient time for adjustments to the project design should the BBCS or ECP indicate the need to alter design parameters to avoid, minimize and/or mitigate impacts to birds and bats,” Holliday told the Range News.

Hansen had expressed his concern that the avian and bat studies would “not even cover a full cycle of avian and bat lives. The reported coverage is for winter and spring only. This disregards summer (breeding species) and fall (when numbers of migrants are actually at their greatest).”

Holliday responded that “wintering avian studies have been conducted and completed and all data have been shared with the agencies. Studies are being continued through spring, summer and the fall months of 2013.”

All avian studies are being conducted in accordance with recent USFWS “Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines,” as well as its “Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance;” and the AGFD’s “Guidelines for Reducing Impacts to Wildlife from Wind Energy Development in Arizona,” he said.

“Anabats have been installed on both meteorological towers and the data is being studied by an expert bat ecologist,” said Holliday, explaining, “The Anabat is the most respected bat detector in the industry and is used to study active, passive and mobile monitoring of the bat community.”

Hansen had also questioned if there were any surveys for the area’s ground wildlife, adding, “These are known to be impacted, as well.”

“I’m not stating we shouldn’t do the project; however, there seems to be a rush here and a willingness to start a project with incomplete data,” Hansen told the Range News.

Responding to those concerns, Holliday said that SWCA began on the ground surveys in the winter of 2012.

“Species from the AGFD special-status species list, that have the potential to occur within and/or out to 10 miles of the project area boundary, were identified prior to field surveys,” he told the Range News.

“During ground surveys SWCA staff surveyed habitat for all potential species. ADOT’s Wildlife Linkages Assessment Tool was used to identify any wildlife corridors,” Holliday said.

“After evaluation it was determined that the development and operation of the proposed project would not likely affect the breeding or movements of any of these animals over the long terms, or fragment any of these species’ habitats,” he said.

Holliday went on to say that the project site is located on previously disturbed land.

“A considerable amount of soil disturbance has occurred as a result of decades of agricultural practices (cattle and horse ranching) over the entire project area,” he told the Range News.

“ There has been no observed presence of prairie dogs, rabbits, or squirrel colonies within the site and there is limited water within or near the site,” said Holliday, adding, “The low carrying capacity for small mammals makes the project area an unlikely habitat for raptor and larger mammal species.”

TRE had submitted notices of proposed construction to the FAA on Jan. 18 this year.

“All turbine locations were found to have a ‘determination of no hazard,’ and therefore are approved by the FAA.”

Cochise County Airport Manager Louise Walden said it is her understanding that “the FAA has told them to light the towers.”

As to the proposed project’s impact on the Willcox airport, she said, “The location is far enough away that it should not be a concern to those who use the airport.”

Walden added, “I am in favor of wind and solar power and like the idea of clean energy.”

President C.J. Dorland, with Inde Motorsports Ranch, at 9301 W. Airport Road, said his understanding is that the project is about 12 miles from Inde “so we will not see or hear the windmills.”

He told the Range News that the proposed wind farm would not have any impact on their “current or future operations.”

“We are supportive of the project because we are in favor of renewable energy, and the project will create numerous local jobs- both short term and long term,” Dorland said.

“Our only concern is the condition of Airport Road, and from our talks with Torch they are prepared to spend the money necessary to repair any and all damage to the road,” he told the Range News.

According to the document, “Activities and Impacts for Proposed Use,” the new road construction for turbine access setup and maintenance will consist of 16-foot wide aggregate roads and temporary 10-foot compacted shoulders.

“The shoulders will be de-compacted after installation of the turbines, and reclaimed to their condition,” Holliday said.

“The majority of the impact to the neighboring property owners will occur during construction, which is expected to be completed in less than one year.”

Holliday told the Range News, “We are really excited about his project, and think it will be a huge success for the communities of Willcox and Benson, Cochise County, and the State of Arizona.”

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