Noting that there’s no longer a demand for large-scale solar projects, the Yuma County Board of Supervisors has nixed the proposed Renewable Energy Incentive District (REID) project.
Although not wanting formal districts, the supervisors still asked that maps be drawn designating areas considered suitable for such projects.
The goal of the project had been to identify areas in the county where solar development could be encouraged to minimize impact on the community.
Officials had hoped that offering incentives, such as not having to seek a special use permit, would move developers to build projects in the districts.
The real incentive would have been the time saved – three to four months – because developers wouldn’t have to request special use permits.
The board had selected three potential areas for the district:
• 15,000 acres at County 19th Street and the Area Service Highway (State Route 195)
• 32,000 acres south of I-8 east of the Gila Mountains to Mohawk Mountains
• 64,000 acres south of I-8 Mohawk Mountains to Avenue 76E
Planning Director Paul Melcher presented the board with three options for the REID project.
1. Continue with the project with the maps and regulations “as is.”
2. Continue with the project with amendments to the maps and text to address stakeholder comments.
3. Discontinue the project and review renewable energy projects on a case-by-case basis through special use permit requests.
Asked for his recommendation, Melcher said, “Given the uncertainty of the building development environment and … given that developers here are coming in with localized projects at this time, I would say staff’s recommendation at this time would be to discontinue and just watch and monitor.”
He pointed out that APS has not announced any plans for more solar projects and the federal government is no longer offering “aggressive” loan programs for renewable energy projects.
The push is now toward community-based solar projects, such as rooftop panels installed over parking lots at schools and businesses, Melcher noted.
If something in the industry changed, the county could always bring it back with very little effort, he added.
County Administrator Robert Pickels agreed, noting demand for the industry “doesn’t exist anymore.”
Supervisor Tony Reyes questioned discontinuing the project when all the work has already been done and the objective was to be ready for when it would be needed.
“Discontinuing seems to send the message we don’t think it’s of any importance,” Reyes said.
“It’s nice to think we’re ready for it and we already have assigned places where it can go,” he added.
Chairman Greg Ferguson said he prefers to review each project case by case, rather than have districts with an “autopilot” process.
He agreed there isn’t much of a demand for renewable energy projects anymore. People thought “it would be a gold mine and it’s not,” he said.
But Reyes argued that reviewing each project case by case is “micromanaging” and said he favors “less government intrusion.”
“From the beginning, some members of the board, chairman included, just didn’t like the fact that people could go through this process faster without us having any say,” he said.
The county should, at the least, designate areas even if developers still had to go through the SUP process, Reyes said.
Supervisor Russell McCloud agreed, but proposed moving the boundaries farther away from Sears Point, as some citizens had suggested.
Ultimately, the board voted 4-1, with Ferguson the lone dissenter, to nix the formal districts but designate areas suitable for renewable energy development.
The board directed staff to update the maps based on comments from property owners and the supervisors and bring it back through the Planning and Zoning commission for board review.
What property owners think:
As part of an outreach effort, Yuma County mailed 2,407 letters to property owners in the three proposed Renewable Energy Incentive District areas to determine interest in the project.
The notice also invited property owners to attend public meetings in San Luis and Wellton to provide comments. No one attended the San Luis meeting, but the Wellton meeting drew 27 people, with 22 favoring the REID project.
Comments from those in favor of the project included:
• Offers an alternative opportunity to recoup a return on their land investment since residential development had diminished and was not likely to resume in the near future.
• Time savings for developers
• Private developers could develop their own projects.
Comments from the persons opposed included:
• Possible negative visual impacts on Sears Point.
• 300 feet is not enough of a buffer from residences to projects.
• Projects need to be located on disturbed lands.
In addition to the meetings, staff received 47 phone calls from property owners in response to the letters mailed out. Of those phone calls, 18 property owners were in favor of moving forward with the districts, with four property owners opposed to the project.
The remaining 25 callers wanted more information.
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