County's solar power future uncertain

Applications keep rolling in, but actual construction of power plants hasn't started

KINGMAN - The future of solar power projects in Mohave County continues to be cloudy in 2011. The county has approved at least six commercial-grade solar plants but none of them have broken ground yet. One has received approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission and the others have yet to apply.

Hualapai Valley Solar is the only solar plant to have received approval from both the county and the ACC, but it hasn't broken ground on the project yet. The 340-megawatt concentrated solar plant is slated to be built near Red Lake, a usually dry lake bed located about 27 miles north of Kingman. The $2.1 billion project would cover more than 4,000 acres of property and use around 1,400 acre-feet of water per year. It would generate approximately 1,500 temporary construction and 100 permanent jobs.

It would use concentrated solar technology, which uses curved mirrors to focus sunlight on a tube of oil. The heated oil is used to heat water in a central power plant and generate steam to turn turbines to generate electricity.

The amount of water proposed to be used by Hualapai Valley Solar to cool its turbines has been a major concern of some Mohave County residents. The concern was brought to the attention of the ACC and its Line Siting Committee during hearings on the Hualapai Valley Solar project in January 2010. The discussion led to the approval of a certificate of environmental compatibility for Hualapai Valley from the ACC with the condition that the plant use dry-cooling technology or treated wastewater from the city of Kingman's Hilltop wastewater treatment plant in October 2010. A contract for the sale of the treated wastewater has yet to be signed.

It is unknown when Hualapai Valley will break ground on the new plant. It is still awaiting approval to tap into a Western Area Power Administration power line that runs near the plant.

The surge in solar plant requests for the county started in 2009 with the 200-megawatt Albiasa solar plant that is planned to be built near the Silverado master-planned community, about 45 miles southeast of Kingman on U.S. 93. Albiasa's $1 billion project would cover 1,400 acres of property, use concentrated solar technology and consume an estimated 2,275 acre-feet of water per year. It would created nearly 2,000 jobs during construction and 100 permanent jobs once it is finished.

The Board of Supervisors approved its zoning and General Plan amendment requests in November 2009. However, the plant has not filed for a certificate of environmental compatibility with the ACC and calls to company representatives have not been returned.

The largest solar project proposed for Mohave County is located north of Interstate 40 near Topock. Needle Mountain Power announced in 2010 that it wanted to install a 1,200-mega watt solar dish facility on 10,000 acres of the former Sterling master-planned community.

The project is unique in that instead of using concentrated solar mirrors or photovoltaic panels to collect the sun's rays, it will use large mirrored dishes. The dishes look like huge old-fashioned satellite dishes. The dishes focus the sun's heat on a Stirling-type engine, which uses the heat to power the engine and generate electricity.

According to information given to the county, the plant would use less than 500 acre-feet of water a year. The company would employ around 1,500 people to build the plant. Once the plant is complete, approximately 75 to 100 people would be hired to staff it on a full-time basis.

The company is working with BNSF Railway Company on the location of the dishes near the rail line. It has not filed for a certificate with the ACC yet.

The newest solar plant to request approval is one slated for part of the Ranch at White Hills master-planned community in between Dolan Springs and White Hills on U.S. 93. The 90-mega watt project is slated to take the place of part of the golf course in the master-planned community. It will cover 565 acres four miles north of 23rd Street and west of Pierce Ferry Road.

The project will use photovoltaic panels to collect the sun's energy and turn it into electricity. The project was approved by the county's Planning and Zoning Commission in December and is expected to go before the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 18.

The county has also approved two smaller scale solar plants; one is located near Yucca and the other near Hackberry.

The Yucca plant is owned by Havasu Solar Electric and will be situated on 46 acres of land east of I-40 and north of Boriana Mine Road. The plant will use photovoltaic panels to generate approximately 1-megawatt of power.

The plant in Hackberry will be located north of I-40 and east of Hackberry Road. This plant will also use photovoltaic panels and generated about 1.5-megawatts. Neither plant has broken ground.