KINGMAN - The vote on the approval of Hualapai Valley Solar's certificate of environmental compatibility is getting mixed reviews in Mohave County.
In March, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a certificate of environmental compatibility for Hualapai Valley Solar. The company wants to build a 340-megawatt concentrated solar plant about 27 miles north of Kingman near Red Lake.
The ACC put the certificate on hold in March in order to allow two Mohave County residents, Denise Bensusan and Susan Bayer, to act as interveners in the case. The two women wanted to prohibit the company from using groundwater for cooling.
The company is negotiating with the city of Kingman to use treated wastewater (effluent) from the city's Hilltop Wastewater Treatment Plant to reduce the amount of groundwater the solar plant would use. However, the wastewater plant would not have been able to produce enough water right away to supply all of the solar plant's water needs. The solar plant needs between 2,000 and 3,000 acre-feet or between 652 million and 978 million gallons of water a year. The city would have been able to give at least 900,000 gallons of effluent a day or 328 million gallons a year for the plant at the start.
That amount of effluent would grow as the city grew.
On Oct. 15, Commission Chair Kris Mayes proposed an amendment to the original CEC for Hualapai Solar. Her amendment prohibited the solar plant from using groundwater for cooling and proposed that the plant use either effluent or dry-cooling or a combination of both to run the plant.
The issue came back for a vote before the ACC again on Wednesday. At that time, representatives from Hualapai Solar argued that prohibiting the use of groundwater to help cool the plant would endanger the company's bid for a contract with Nevada Energy and financing from the federal government.
The hold on Hualapai Solar's certificate was lifted by a 4 to 1 vote, but Mayes' amendment also passed by a narrow 3 to 2 vote. Hualapai Solar is now prohibited from using groundwater to cool the plant.
Bayer said she was so confused by the discussion by the commissioners before the vote that she thought that she and Bensusan had lost their case. It wasn't until someone sitting next to her congratulated her that she realized what happened.
"I thought we had lost at the last minute," said Bensusan. "I'm really, really pleased that someone in a leadership position took a stand. Maybe now our local leaders will take a better look at what kinds of projects want to come into Mohave County."
Bensusan said she was never against the Hualapai Solar project; she just wanted it to be dry-cooled.
The approval of the amendment to the certificate is not necessarily a bad thing, said Kingman Mayor John Salem.
"I see it as a victory for Kingman. In order for the plant to be built, it has to be built using dry-cooling technology or effluent," he said. The city is working with Hualapai Solar to determine exactly how much effluent the plant will need to cool its turbines.
The city may be able to supply all of the water needed using effluent from both the Hilltop and the Downtown wastewater treatment plants with some help from the Arizona State Prison-Kingman wastewater treatment plant.
"We still haven't given up," Salem said. If the city can supply all of the water the solar plant needs, it will be a great boon to city wastewater rate payers, he said.
The city will be able to use the money from the sale of the effluent to pay for the cost of the upgrades to both wastewater plants, he said.
And with the help of new technology, the plant may be able to use less effluent and reuse more effluent than previously thought, Salem said.
"There's a high probability we can do this," he said.
It was unlikely but Hualapai Solar could ask the ACC to reconsider their vote or file an appeal of the decision in court, said Tim Hogan from the Arizona Center of Law in the Public Interest. He represented Bensusan in the ACC hearings.
Mohave County District I Supervisor Gary Watson and Hualapai Solar Project Manager Greg Bartlett were not immediately available for comment.