Solar request on hold

Huge complex stays in U.S. 93 area plan – for now

KINGMAN - Solar power is not yet king in Mohave County.

After hearing comments from several members of the Highway 93 Area Plan Committee Wednesday, the County Planning and Zoning Commission continued a request from the County Planning and Zoning Department on behalf of Albiasa to remove 1.75 square miles from the proposed Highway 93 Area Plan.

Albiasa plans to build a 200-megawatt concentrated solar plant on 1,600 acres near the Silverado master planned community on U.S. 93 southeast of Kingman. The company wants to remove 1.75 square miles of the project from the proposed Highway 93 Area Plan and add it to the existing Silverado Area Plan.

Several Highway 93 Area Plan Committee members opposed the request at the meeting.

"Your decision on today's agenda will have a direct impact on how valid two years of work is," said committee member Mark Shaver. He encouraged the commission to continue the item and read the proposed Highway 93 Area Plan before making a final decision.

"I don't believe the plan boundary should be changed to accommodate a single business," said Elizabeth Barnett, another committee member. "If some other business comes along and says 'We want to opt out of this area plan so we can change the zoning,' what's going to happen?"

P&Z Commissioner Kristal Gibson tried to explain that the county is still working on establishing zoning codes for green or renewable energy projects. Until then, the county had to use its existing zoning to fit the industry into the area. That was why the Albiasa project was listed as a heavy industry zoning.

"What good is it to have the plan and then have somebody exempt?" asked Wayne Smith, another area plan committee member. "It (the solar plant) goes against everything I moved out there for."

"Why were we asked to take part in a plan that is environmentally responsible if any developer can come along and change it to fit his pocket book," said another resident.

Jim Kanelos asked if the commission planned to change the area plan boundaries in the future.

Resident Verna Schwab asked the commission to throw the whole plan out. The county already has a General Plan which requires businesses and developers to come before the commission and allows residents to voice their opinion of projects. Why does the county need the Highway 93 Area Plan?

"This seeks to usurp two sections of critical land from our plan for the sole purpose of allowing inconsistent and incongruent industrial use," said Patty Wallrod, another Highway 93 Committee member.

The proposed solar plant uses too much water, she said. It's not a sustainable source of green energy. "Just because it has the word solar in it does not make it green."

Denise Bensusan, a resident who worked for many months on the Long Mountain Area Plan, encouraged the commission to back the members of the Highway 93 Area Plan Committee.

Albiasa should go through the proper process of amending the Highway 93 Area Plan in order to get its project approved, she said.

Water and the area plan are important, said Mark Horner, a representative of the land development group who controlled the land Albaisa was planning to use. But Albiasa and the developer had been working with the county staff since late last year on the project.

The company and developer had engineers attend some of the area plan meetings, but no details of the solar project were revealed to the Highway 93 Area Plan Committee until May 12, said County Planner Kevin Davidson. Albaisa had asked staff to keep the project confidential until the company was ready to publicly announce the solar project.

"So you spent all this time on an area plan, you knew that they were planning something and they knew, but no one ever brought this up to the area plan people until May?" asked P&Z Vice Chairman Carl Flusche.

"Correct," said Davidson.

"The hardest part about getting to the facts at these meetings is, if you make a comment that nobody likes, they want to chime in with their input," said Horner. "I don't have a problem with input. It just has to be done in an orderly fashion.

"It's obvious that this item was well received by the county," he said. County staff had helped to find a specific site that was amenable to the project. "We're not trying to pull the wool over any eyes."

"It works on my conscious any time I look at one of these (projects) as to the credibility of who we're dealing with," said Commissioner Bill Abbott. "I haven't seen anything proven out in that area for close to three years."

Supervisor Gary Watson later asked the commission, on behalf of Albiasa and Horner, for more direction on what the commission wanted from Albiasa.

Commissioners Mehdi Azarmi, Abbott and Flusche expressed concern over the use of water by the solar plant, especially since there did not seem to be anyone in charge of controlling how much water the plant could use.

Flusche asked to continue the item for 60 days in order to allow the commission to read the draft Highway 93 Area Plan. The commission unanimously approved the idea.