Coconino County is developing a new renewable energy ordinance.
The effort comes as there has been an increased demand for renewable sources of energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.
The county approved a wind project last year just south of Winslow, and it appears the county planning and zoning commission will be considering another wind project this year.
Melissa Shaw, the county long-range planner, told the Coconino County Board of Supervisors this week that the ordinance is designed to regulate new renewable energy projects and provide guidance to county staff and developers as more proposed projects come forward.
“We have seen an increase of large-scale renewable energy projects that have come in as conditional-use permits, and currently there are not specific standards within our zoning ordinance to help guide decision-makers for approving those projects,” Shaw told the board.
Last year, the state’s largest public utility, Arizona Public Service, announced a goal to transition into 100% carbon-free by 2050 and 45% renewable energy sources by 2030.
Shaw said the ordinance would impact newly proposed wind, solar and biomass facilities, the latter of which burn wood products in order to generate power.
Staff have been working on a draft of the ordinance since last year, and Shaw said they hope to have a nearly complete draft of the plan before the end of the month. At that time, Shaw said, staff can come back and seek additional input from the board of supervisors after presenting them the plan in more detail.
So far, their draft would change three sections of the county zoning code, creating a specific designation for renewable energy facilities within the county’s ordinances.
Other changes regulate noise generated by renewable energy facilities and the phenomenon called shadow flicker, which is created by wind turbines. Shadow flicker is created when sunlight shines through the spinning wind turbines, generally during the sunrise or sunset, and can become an annoyance to nearby residents.
The county would also require applicants hoping to build such a facility to produce studies of wildlife and vegetation, visual impacts and cultural resources in the area.
The ordinance also outlines what is considered a favored site or a disfavored site for such projects. The ordinance would favor building facilities away from scenic views and places of cultural importance to local tribes, and close to existing power lines.
Shaw said in developing the ordinance, county staff have gathered a large advisory group to provide input and guidance.
Visual impacts and required setbacks for facilities have been a particular point of discussion, Shaw said, as staff seek to balance those visual impacts with the real need for more production of energy using renewable sources.
Staff are also drawing on the recent joint land use study between the county, city and local military installations. That plan was developed in part to ensure that local growth and development would not negatively impact the missions of local military installations.
That could mean, for example, locating biomass facilities that produce smoke away from the naval observatory.
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