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Column: A blast from the past

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," said George Santayana, poet and philosopher. Could Mohave County be repeating the past?

Since I started covering the county for the Miner, I have heard references made to "the Big Sandy" whenever the topic of water was brought up at Planning and Zoning Commission or Board of Supervisors meetings.

It wasn't until recently that I had the time to more fully research the project. What I found were some startling similarities between the Big Sandy power plant project and the two solar plants proposed for the area.

Big Sandy project

According to Miner archives, in the early 2000s Caithness Energy from Golden, Colo., tried to build a 720-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant (the Big Sandy) near Wikieup.

Just like the two solar plants, there were strong arguments both for and against the Big Sandy.

Two supervisors argued for the Big Sandy, saying it would provide needed tax revenue and jobs for the county.

Residents of the area argued strongly against it, raising concerns about impact to the wildlife, the environment and the use of water.

According to the archives, the plant would have drawn between 3,200 and 4,000 acre-feet of water. The plant did offer to recharge about 300 acre-feet back into the ground.

More revenue and more jobs

The same arguments are being raised today with the two solar plants. The city and the county are both arguing that the two plants will bring sales and property tax revenues and provide jobs for the community.

The solar plants will draw more businesses to the area because they will need parts and supplies, which will create even more jobs and encourage more people to come to the area, local officials say. This in turn will create more jobs because the people who come to the area will need homes, furniture, food and other necessities, they say.

With more people and businesses moving into the area, the city, county and state will be able to collect more sales and property taxes. This will allow the government to provide better services to the community, officials contend.

Water is always a concern

Many residents have a different opinion about the two plants. Just like with the Big Sandy, some residents have raised concerns about the impact the two plants will have on the amount of water in the local aquifers.

The Hualapai Valley Solar project, near Red Lake, would supply 340-megawatts of power and draw 2,275 acre-feet of water annually from the Hualapai Aquifer. The company and the city of Kingman have said that there is a plan to eventually supply the plant with 75 percent of the water it needs from effluent provided from the Kingman Hilltop Waste Water Treatment Plant.

The Albiasa project, near the Silverado master-planned community, would provide 200-megawatts of power and use between 1,000 and 3,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Big Sandy Aquifer. Albiasa has not given much information about how it plans to manage the water it uses.

No one knows exactly how much water is left in any of the Mohave County aquifers, but residents have said that there is evidence that the water level is dropping.

They're not against solar energy, many residents have said, but they are against wasting water that could serve current and future residents.

The great balancing act

The whole argument about the plants comes down to balancing needs.

The community needs jobs to support the population it has and to grow. More tax dollars can provide more revenue to local governments, which can mean better services to the community and less of a tax burden on the residents.

That need for new jobs and more tax revenue has to be balanced against the need for water, water that current and future residents must have. If the community does grow with the construction of the new plants and the supporting businesses, will there be enough water for everyone? What happens to the community if several years down the line the water runs out? Are there better alternatives?

Residents are the deciders

The only ones who can decide what is best for a community are the members of the community. Residents need to voice their opinion for or against the projects to their representatives. And government officials need to not only listen to those who show up at the meetings, but get out into the coffee shops, visit with local organizations and ask residents who don't attend the meetings what they think.

Despite the concerns of the residents, the Big Sandy project passed the County Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of Supervisors and the Arizona Corporation Commission's Line Sitting Commission in 2000 and 2001.

In September 2001, the ACC failed to approve the Big Sandy project by a unanimous vote. It was the only major utility project ever denied by the ACC.

The reason ACC Commissioner William Mundell gave for voting against the project was because of water.

The real reason why the plant was denied was because residents made their voices heard on what they wanted for their community.

Both Hualapai Valley Solar and Albiasa have passed the County Planning and Zoning Commission and are due to be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Monday.


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