KINGMAN - Hualapai Valley Solar will not be able to use groundwater for its concentrated solar plant. The Arizona Corporation Commission on Wednesday approved, by a 4 to 1 vote, lifting the hold on Hualapai Solar's certificate of environmental compatibility but voted 3 to 2 to amend the certificate to prohibit the company from using any groundwater to cool the plant. The company can use as much treated wastewater (effluent) as it can get from the Kingman Hilltop Wastewater Treatment plant or a combination of dry-cooling and effluent to run the plant.
Hualapai Valley Solar is a 340-megawatt concentrated solar plant proposed to be built near Red Lake, about 27 miles north of Kingman. Representatives from the plant have been working on an agreement with the city of Kingman to purchase effluent from the city's Hilltop Wastewater Treatment plant to reduce the amount of groundwater the solar plant would use.
The current proposed 10-year agreement would have the city supplying about 900,000 gallons of effluent per day through a pipeline to the plant. That amount of water would grow as the population of Kingman grew and the amount of effluent produced by the plant increased. The water would be sold to the plant at 64 cents per thousand gallons. The plant needs between 2,000 and 3,000 acre-feet or between 652 million and 978 million gallons of water a year.
Commission Chair Kris Mayes proposed an amendment Oct. 15 that would require the company to use all available effluent supplies from the city's Hilltop Wastewater Plant or use a combination of effluent and dry-cooling technology if not enough water was available.
According to her amendment, Mayes was particularly concerned with the amount of groundwater the project would use to supplement the solar plant's water supply until Kingman could produce enough effluent to supply the plant's needs.
The previous CEC requires that the plant make every "reasonable" effort to mitigate use of groundwater and use as much effluent as possible from the Kingman plant. Mayes felt that left too large of a chance for the company to back out of its agreement to use effluent.
Tom Campbell, Hualapai Solar's attorney, said that the company agreed with part of Mayes' amendment but not all of it.
"We're agreeable to use all of the effluent Kingman can provide. We're confident we can get the pipeline (to transfer the water to the solar plant) done," he said. "We can't support the part about no use of groundwater or the use of dry-cooling technology."
The project would be dead if Hualapai Solar had to follow those guidelines, Campbell said. They would have to start over from scratch and would lose a possible contract with Nevada Energy and possible funding from the federal government. The company couldn't rewind the project at this point to incorporate dry- or hybrid-cooling technology, he said.
Campbell tried to reassure the commission by saying that effluent was already available. The city of Kingman's plant was already producing the wastewater and had to expand the Hilltop plant per requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency, he said. The pipeline to transport the treated water to the plant was already in the land negotiation progress. All that needed to happen was for the city and the plant to sign a contract for the sale of the water, Campbell said.
Kingman Mayor John Salem told the commission that he had staked his reputation on getting a signed contract to sell effluent to Hualapai Solar.
"My neck's on the line. If this doesn't happen, my name is mud," he said.
Mayes pointed out that Nevada, California and New Mexico were already limiting solar plants to dry-cooling technology. How much of a disadvantage would Hualapai Solar be at if all of its competitors were dry-cooling too? she asked.
"Dry-cooling makes sense, we can make it happen some day, but there needs to be a transition period," said Hualapai Solar Project Manager Greg Bartlett. The Hualapai Solar project would be one of those transition projects. The amount of groundwater would decrease as more effluent became available, he said.
But if the commission forced the company to make the plant dry- or hybrid-cooled now it would lose a possible contract with Nevada Energy and possible federal funding, Bartlett said.
Tim Hogan, representing Mohave County resident Denise Bensusan, said they might have been more sympathetic to Hualapai Solar's request for groundwater if the company had produced any statistics on how much of a burden the cost of using dry-cooling technology would be on the plant. But the company had simply repeated over and over again that dry- or hybrid-cooling would be too inefficient and cost too much to install.
"The company basically dismissed dry- or hybrid-cooling," he said. "Now they're saying it's too late to go back. This was never about cost. They just didn't want to do it."
"This is not where the Southwest is heading. All the other states in the Southwest are going dry-cooled. The market will take care of itself," Hogan said.
Campbell pointed to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy saying that the conditions in the report were similar to the ones present in Mohave County. The report showed that dry-cooling in desert areas was inefficient and costly. He also pointed to a concentrated solar plant using wet-cooled technology that was recently approved in California.
Mayes pointed out that that would probably be the last wet-cooled plant in California and the majority of states surrounding Arizona were moving toward dry-cooling. She didn't think there needed to be a statewide ban on using groundwater for solar plants, but the water situation in Mohave County was different from other areas.
"Why should Arizona rate-payers, taxpayers and residents have to sell their water to Nevada?" she asked
"It's well worth that amount of water for the benefit the state and Mohave County will get," Campbell said. The company needed to use groundwater until the amount of effluent supplied by Kingman could reach the plant's needs.
What would happen if the projected growth didn't happen? Mayes asked.
It's hard to believe that Kingman wouldn't grow or that people wouldn't switch to sewer from septic tanks, Campbell said. The company was willing to put a cap on the amount of groundwater it would use until Kingman could provide enough effluent.
An amendment to the certificate that would cap the water was proposed but failed.
However, Mayes' amendment to prohibit the use of groundwater and to require Hualapai solar to use effluent and dry-cooling passed by a 4 to 1 vote.