BISBEE – Last Wednesday, Cochise County Planning and Zoning commissioners approved a special use permit for a 28-turbine wind farm located in a rural area known as Allen Flats on state trust land between Benson and Willcox, the first in the county of this magnitude. Torch Renewable Energy, LLC, will be developing the Red Horse Wind 2 project and plan to break ground by Dec. 31 to cash in on federal tax credits for renewable energy sources, said Jonathan Killberg, president of the company. The project calls for 28 turbines that could be as tall as 497 feet, with blades up to 192 feet in diameter, that will produce up to 51-megawatts of power, explained county Planning Manager Michael Turisk during his presentation. The site consists of 5,760 acres of state land and a small plot of private property near the Winchester Mountains. Only 220 acres or so would be cleared for the wind farm that will produce enough energy for around 15,000 homes. Tucson Electric Power has a transmission line near the site and has agreed to purchase power produced by the wind farm for the next 20 years, Turisk added. Turisk also explained that great strides have been made in turbine technology over the past few years to reduce noise, though some studies indicate there is a low-frequency vibration that may not be heard, but could possibly be felt and could lead to illnesses. Being near the Willcox Playa and the thousands of wintering birds that feed in the area, there is concern for migrating birds and the bats that visit during monsoon. However, Turisk said Arizona Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) will provide ongoing studies of the impact the wind farm may have on wildlife. Turisk said a golden eagle pair that nests the area, the bald eagles that find winter foraging within 10 miles of the site and the long-nosed bat that frequents the area are all protected species and will be monitored by the wildlife agencies. In a letter to the county from Arizona Game and Fish dated March 25, Ginger Ritter, project evaluation program specialist, states: “It is our understanding that per the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and subsequent guidance drafted by USFW, the locations of, and activities of, golden eagles and active nests both on Red Horse Wind and the vicinity may ultimately influence turbine locations, depending on turbine setback recommendations put forth by the Eagle Conservation Plan, which will be developed by the applicant, USFW and Arizona Game and Fish … After review of the special use permit application and available data on the project, the department recommends postponing approval of the application until more wildlife data is available to assess the applicant’s affects on wildlife populations. If this is not possible, we recommend putting our recommendations as conditions to the permit.” That request was not included in the conditions set by the county staff for the special use permit. There is little that can be done to prevent the “flicker effect,” which is the term used for the shadows cast by the moving turbine blades. That will not affect any residences, since the nearest home is two miles away, said Turisk. Though the Nature Conservancy operates the Muleshoe Reserve near the wind farm, Turisk said the organization had no comment either for or against the proposal. The same position was taken by Arizona Audubon. Benson and Willcox support the wind farm, as does the Willcox Regional Economic Development Alliance and the Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group. Dust mitigation caused by construction and maintenance trucks was a condition of the commissioners’ approval as was a $3 million up-front fund to cover the costs of county road maintenance. The project will take access from I-10 north to Taylor Road, to West Airport Road, to East Three Links Road, to North Muleshoe Road, and tying in on North War Bonnet Road, Turisk said. These roads are to be maintained during construction and delivery of the components of the turbines and the county wants to ensure that will be done. Another condition of approval sets a three-year limit from the date of approval for substantial construction to begin, or the special use permit will be revoked. Commissioners Jim Martzke, Gary Brauchla, Jim Lynch, Tim Cervantes, Pat Edie, Ron Bemis, Joe Garcia and Liza Weissler voted to approve the project with Carmen Miller abstaining from the vote. In another matter on a special use permit granted in 2009 for a 200 megawatt solar power plant east of Kansas Settlement Road, commissioners voted unanimously to revoke the permit since no construction had been done, the land ended up in foreclosure and was purchased by a person intending to use the property for agriculture.
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