Time runs out on solar plants talk

Water the central issue at county P&Z meeting

KINGMAN - The two major solar companies proposing to build large solar facilities in Mohave County may have to push back their construction timelines.

Both Albiasa's 200-megawatt plant and Hualapai Valley Power's 340-megawatt plant were on the Mohave County Planning and Zoning Commission's agenda Wednesday, but the commission only got to two of the five items dealing with the Albiasa project and didn't discuss the Hualapai Valley Power project at all, due to the large number of speakers. The items for both projects have been continued to 10 a.m. on Sept. 16.

Albiasa is asking for a major amendment to the county's General Plan, a major amendment and boundary change to the Silverado Area Plan, a reversion to acreage for part of the Silverado Area Plan, a rezone for the plant and an abandonment of all roadways, including old U.S. 93 in the area where the plant will be built.

Hualapai Valley Power is asking for a major amendment to the county's General Plan and for a specific area plan for its project.

Commissioner Sue Donahue recommended the commission listen to as many of the 40 to 50 people signed up to speak on the items as possible Wednesday, after making them wait for so long. The commission agreed.

Resident Judi Scaliatine asked the commission to delay approval on all the solar projects until the County's Development Services Department could finish its review of the proposed renewable energy zoning it was working on. John Lovell, a property owner in the county who lives in Phoenix, spoke out in favor of the project, saying it would bring needed jobs to the area.

Barbara York, another property owner, echoed Lovell's comments on jobs.

Another resident offered the signatures of 19 residents in support of the project from Sierra Vista Estates. According to maps, Sierra Vista Estates is about three to four miles away from the proposed plant.

"The county needs the taxes," she said. "It's important to consider this for all of us who live in Mohave County."

Others raised concerns again about the amount of groundwater the plant would use.

Don Hansen from Clear Creek Associates, Albiasa's groundwater consultant, stated that according to U.S. Geological Survey studies, there was an estimated 10 million acre feet of water in the Big Sandy Aquifer, 10 times the amount of water needed for the plant. The plant needs 2,275 acre feet in order to operate, he said.

The study also showed that four wells in the area that were monitored by the USGS showed increasing levels of water, he said.

Vice Chairman Carl Flusche asked if the 2,275 acre feet was the real amount of water the plant would need. A lot of numbers concerning how much water the plant would use were floating around, he said.

Hansen and Jesse Tippett, the director for Albiasa Corp. in the U.S., both confirmed the number.

Donhue asked when the USGS study Hansen was referring to was published.

The study was from 1986, Hansen said. However, the owners of the Silverado master planned community had done a more recent survey in 2007.

Flusche asked if Albiasa had taken into account the amount of water drawn from the aquifer by the Bagdad mine.

The mine, even though it is located in another county, draws water from the Big Sandy Aquifer in order to support its operation.

The company did not have detailed information on the Bagdad mine, Hansen said.

Mike Packer appeared to be split on the plant. He lived about three miles from where the plant is proposed to be built, he said. He was all for business that would bring jobs into the area, but he was also concerned about losing his well.

"We've got to make sure it's a benefit to the community," he said.

Penny Estelle asked what would happen if local residents did lose their wells. Would the county or Albiasa pay to replace the water?

Susan Bayer asked what would happen if cattle rancher Bill Blake lost water for his cattle. According to Arizona Revised Statutes, if a cattle rancher loses water due to a development, someone has to reimburse him for culling his herd to fit the water supply. Bayer wanted to know if the county or Albiasa would pay.

The commission didn't have an answer for that question, Chairman Earl Hamlyn said.

Commissioner Kristal Gibson asked James Estelle, another resident who raised questions about the use of water, if having Albiasa use dry cooling would alleviate some of the concern over water.

"It would be a whole different ballgame if they did," he said, hinting that some residents would be more favorable to the plant under those circumstances.

Commissioner Bill Abbott asked how many plants Albiasa had constructed and were running in the U.S.

Tippett answered that the company was working on two plants in the Southwest. However, neither plant was in operation yet, he said.

"We have to measure the hysteria out there. Let's be realistic," said Mike Horner, one of the owners of the Silverado property. "The county and the residents need to identify if it is open for business or not."

"You have to draw a line in the sand and be straight shooters with the staff and the public," Flusche told him. Flusche said he and a number of the other commissioners had gotten complaints from residents who walked way from some of the Albiasa meetings with little to no information about the project.

"I've asked for specific data, especially on the dry-cooling technology," Horner said. He even offered to set up a meeting where everyone could sit down and discuss the situation, but no one had taken him up on the offer.

"We didn't come to pull the wool over anyone's eyes," he said. People were looking for information to support their claims against the plant, and when they didn't find it at the meeting, they claimed the company wasn't giving them all the information they needed, he said.

"It's not your (the commission's) fault we don't have enough information to make a decision about this, especially with the water situation this county has," Denise Bensusan said. "We don't need a two-hour spiel about Albiasa. There may be enough water for them, but what about the rest of us?"