Albiasa amendment OK'd by 5-3 vote

KINGMAN - Albiasa's one and only chance to get a major amendment to the County General Plan this year was approved 5-3 by the County Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday.

Three commissioners - Bill Abbott, Rick Sherwood and Chair Earl Hamlyn - voted against the amendment. Commissioner Carl Flusche abstained from voting, and five commissioners - Mehdi Azarmi, Joseph Morabito, Kristal Gibson, Kenneth White and Sue Donahue - voted for it.

The commission was also divided, but voted for approval, on Albiasa's requests for a major amendment to the Silverado Area Plan, a reversion to acreage, a rezone to heavy industrial and the abandonment of roads in the area. "You're not doing this the right way," said resident Jim Kanelos. "We need to have the E-zoning approved first."

The next item on the agenda for the commission was indeed the E or alternative energy zoning the P&Z department has been working on for a number of months. It would provide a specific zoning that would be limited to an alternative energy power plant, such as Albiasa's. It would prevent a company from requesting heavy industrial zoning for an alternative energy project and then using the property for something else.

"Residents have a right to expect that the zoning near their property is going to stay the same," said resident John Latinski. "I feel completely disregarded."

"I don't approve of any of this stuff," resident Robin LaRue said.

Attendees and commissioners grilled Mike Horner from Silver Ranch Corporation, who applied for the zoning requests on behalf of Albiasa, and Albiasa representatives on the project for several hours.

A number of the questions from the commissioners focused on water, cooling technology, the heavy industrial zoning the company was requesting, changing the Silverado Area Plan and the abandonment of Old U.S. 93.

Sherwood asked if the company would have to provide updated information on the amount of water in the area to the Arizona Corporation Commission. The current information the company is using is from 1986, he said.

Horner said Silver Ranch Corporation had provided water information to the state in 2006 when Silverado was in progress, but the application for water to the ACC was never completed.

The Albiasa project would have to provide new water data when it applied to the ACC and the Arizona Department of Water Resources for its permits, he said.

Abbott asked why the plant couldn't use dry-cooling technology when other solar plants in Nevada, California and Texas were using it and making a profit. The area could not support a wet-cooled plant with the amount of water two mines in the area were drawing from the aquifer, he said. He also referred to a recent study from the University of Arizona that stated that dry-cooling technology should be the norm for solar plants in Arizona.

Dry-cooling technology uses air instead of water to cool the turbines that produce the plant's energy. Albiasa's plant is estimated to use less than the nearly 2,275 acre-feet of water slated for Hualapai Valley Solar's plant near Red Lake, Arturo Alvarez from Albiasa said. According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources and based on data from 2001-2005, an acre-foot of water will serve a family of five for one year.

Alvarez pointed to a recent congressional study on dry-cooling technology. While the study encourages the use of dry-cooling technology for solar plants, such as Albiasa's, he said, it also states in some areas that the air temperature gets so hot that dry-cooling technology loses some of its efficiency.

Also, dry-cooling and hybrid-cooling technology, which uses a combination of dry and wet cooling, has not been tested in a plant this size, Alvarez said. There may be better technology in the future that the plant could switch to.

"For now, this is the only way to go," he said.

The commission approved a photovoltaic solar plant on 40 acres not far from Albiasa's project a few months ago, Abbott said. That project doesn't use any water.

Several commissioners had a hard time with rezoning the property from agricultural/residential use to heavy industry.

Hamlyn said he was concerned the property could be sold and another, less desirable, project could be built on the property.

He asked County Civil Attorney Robert Taylor if approval of the heavy industrial zoning would allow neighboring property owners to request the same zoning.

Taylor said if the zoning was approved, other property owners could indeed request the same zoning.

Why didn't the company apply for a zoning use permit, Hamlyn asked, like the Hualapai Valley Solar and SunWest Biofuels plants did?

Investors in projects such as these like hard zoning, Horner said. He pointed out that there was a clause in the zoning request that only a solar plant could be built on the property.

Residents in the area were clearly opposed to the Albiasa project because of the amount of water and environmental impact it might have on the area, Abbott said. Why not wait until the economy recovered and the housing market picked up and then restart Silverado, he asked.

He didn't know what the economy was going to do, Horner said. He was trying to promote the Albiasa project as way to get jobs into the county.

A solar project such as this would be a temporary shot in the economic arm for the county, Abbot said. A housing community would benefit the community for a longer period of time as it was being built, he argued before voting against the amendment.

It passed however, so now the zoning request will go before the Board of Supervisors, most likely in November.