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County agrees to knock $200K from inspections, permits

BISBEE – Red Horse Wind Farm developers had their permit and inspection fees lowered by more than $200,000 last week Tuesday by the Cochise County Board of Supervisors.

Permits and inspections for the wind farm were based on the construction value of the project, which if the turbines are counted, totals some $51 million, said Mike Izzo, county building official. Inspection and permit fees would total $271,175 for the project, at the full development value.

However, Donny Gallagher, engineering manager for Swinerton Renewable Energy, argued that the manufactured turbines should be dropped from the value of the project. Since the turbines are manufactured and come ready to be installed, they have already undergone inspections before leaving the plant. So, they do not need to be re-inspected by the county. He asked the fees be dropped to $69,027.

Izzo told Supervisors Ann English and Richard Searle that the county made a counter offer of $175,000 which would cover the actual costs of inspections. This is the same policy staff followed on the Torch solar farm.

The county was using a contracted engineer to perform the inspections on the wind farm as there is no one on staff with the necessary expertise, added Izzo.

Though Izzo believes inspections of the installation of the turbines are important, Gallagher and Shawn Markham, representing the investment firm D.E. Shaw Group, said the county does not need to inspect the turbines for structural integrity.

“They go through many inspections during the manufacturing process,” noted Markham.

Searle suggested that since there would be a number of engineers on site for the construction, the county should limit inspections and stay within the limit of $69,027.

“I’m not overly concerned with liability,” continued Searle. “The county inspections should be used for protection of its residents. This project is 15 miles from Willcox in an area with few residents. It’s not heavily populated. I don’t know if there’s a lot of public risk to this.”

English agreed saying, “We need to know what’s going on in the county and if it’s safe. If the turbines are already put together and inspected by the manufacturer, I don’t see a need for us to inspect them. I want to get the property back on the tax rolls.”

County Administrator Mike Ortega emphasized that staff made its recommendation based on what was needed to ensure the project was safely constructed to limit any county liability.

“The bottom line is this is a policy decision,” added Ortega. “Staff made their recommendations based on their opinions. If the board wants a lesser involvement of staff, you may want to set a ‘not to exceed’ amount. Even though staff has made its recommendation, you tell us what to do and we’ll do it.”

The supervisors voted to reduce the project value to $12.5 million and the inspection and review fees to $69,027.

English and Searle decided that the county needed to develop a policy for such projects that take into account actual values and the need for inspections.