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11/17/2009 6:00:00 AM
Albiasa, Hualapai solar plants get green light
State, federal permits, ACC approval next steps for developers

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - Both solar companies were unanimously approved for General Plan amendments and other zoning requests by the Board of Supervisors Monday, but not without some comments from both sides of the issue.

The 200-megawatt Albiasa Solar plant is to be located near the Silverado master-planned community near U.S. 93 and south of Interstate 40. The 340-megawatt Hualapai Valley Solar plant would be located north of Kingman near Red Lake.

Both plants will have to get state and federal permits before construction can start. The Arizona Corporation Commission will also have to approve both plants.

"I ask again, when changing zoning laws, please take into account the citizens that will be most affected," resident John Lutenske said of the Albiasa project. "This Board should not rush to judgement."

There are other areas, already zoned for commercial, where such a plant would be better suited, he said.

"This is not just about water, traffic, dust, noise and profit," Lutenske said. "Why would you want to put heavy industry right next to a residential zone?"

Because the county's Energy Overlay (E) Zoning was not created before Albiasa and Hualapai Valley Solar applied for their zoning requests, both plants were required to apply for heavy industrial zoning. Some residents have raised concerns that this type of zoning would allow other heavy industry to move into the area.

Albiasa Solar has agreed to only build a solar plant on the property.

Silverado, Mike Horner, who owns the land, and Albiasa have never proven an adequate water supply with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said resident Susan Bayer. Water is not a renewable resource when the recharge rate is slower than the amount that is being taken out of the ground, she said.

Adequate water supply designations only apply to subdivisions, said County Manager Ron Walker.

"The Board of Supervisors does not have control over groundwater. It's not our call," said Board Chair Tom Sockwell. "I believe the law stipulates if you own property and there's water under that property, you can drill a well and pump that water out, as long as it is used for a useful purpose. I would have to say that the generation of electricity is a useful purpose."

"We may not like that, but that is the law and its been upheld by the Supreme Court," Walker said.

"The residents get nothing except declining property values, a loss of water and a country way of life," said resident Wayne Smith. "Policy 27.9a of the General Plan states that an applicant must demonstrate a perceived benefit or need to the area affected by the General Plan amendment. I cannot think of one benefit."

"You don't have to rush into this," said resident John Ford. He couldn't understand how Walker could condemn residents who were worried about their water supply when he had campaigned against water usage for Griffith Energy.

"Sit back and think about this, listen to the people," Ford said.

"I appreciate Mr. Ford putting words in my mouth," Walker said. "My argument with Griffith Energy was not water use, it was with the public guaranteeing water use for 50 years and being liable for the delivery of that water."

Several people spoke in favor of the plant.

Resident Russ Settell said he had collected 19 signatures in support of the plant.

"Kingman has the highest rate of unemployment in the state," he said. People hired by Albiasa would be looking for homes in the area to buy. The solar plant would also help release the U.S. from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' stranglehold.

Mike Horner, the property owner who applied for the zoning requests for the plant, also spoke in favor of the project.

The plant would use less than 2,275 acre-feet of water, Horner said. Most of the steel, the structure and the turbines would be manufactured in the U.S. The company would be willing to do groundwater studies in the area. And the plant was planning on recycling the water it used as much as possible.

He estimated that property tax revenues would be about $3.5 million a year for the plant.

The Board unanimously approved Horner's request for a major General Plan amendment, a major amendment to the Silverado Area Plan, a reversion to acreage, a rezoning request and an abandonment of part of Old U.S. 93.

Hualapai Valley Solar seemed to have more support from the audience.

Kingman Mayor John Salem confirmed that the city was creating a water use policy in order to sell its reclaimed water from the Hilltop Wastewater Treatment plant to Hualapai Solar. The city should be able to provide more than 1.7 million gallons a day to the plant. That amount would increase as the city grew and could potentially supply the solar plant with all of its water, he said.

"I really think the benefits of this project far outweigh the risks," Salem said.

The plant planned to reuse the water at least 58 times before releasing it into settling ponds, said Hualapai Valley Solar Project Manager Greg Bartlett

Kingman Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Beverly Liles also spoke in favor of the project, saying it would bring in needed jobs, wages and tax revenues.

The company would bring in an estimated $20 million to the community, which included between $4 to $8 million in property taxes, Bartlett said.

Mike Neal of Truxton Water Company said he had some concerns that the project would affect the ability of his company to provide water to his customers. After speaking with representatives from Hualapai Solar, he said he was no longer concerned.

Chris Hopper of SunWest Biofuel also supported the project, saying the company was planning to supply Hualapai Valley Solar with biodiesel for its generators.

Even those who had voiced opposition to the Albiasa project seemed to give grudging approval to Hualapai Solar.

Resident Jim Kanelos voiced his approval of the use of reclaimed water, but asked that the project be tabled until the county's E Zoning was approved.

Lutenske praised Hualapai Solar's initiative in applying for state and federal permits before it received approval for its zoning from the county. He wondered why Albiasa couldn't do the same thing.

Other residents were not so enthusiastic.

Ford recommended the Board put the project on the ballot to be voted on by all of the county's residents.

Resident Robert Fenwick was concerned about a lack of monitoring on how much water the company would draw out of the ground.

Resident Judi Scaliantine asked that the county require a bond to make sure Hualapai Solar built the solar plant and pipeline to the wastewater treatment plant.

The Board unanimously approved Hualapai Solar's major amendment to the County General Plan and its area plan.

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