KINGMAN - UniSource Energy Services is proposing a $45 million solar energy plant off Route 66 with construction beginning in February 2016, contingent upon rezoning changes and an amendment to Mohave County's general plan.
The proposal calls for two separate projects on 155-acre and 60-acre parcels on Avenida Verde north of Grace Neal Road, near Kingman Airport, said Mike Gibelyou, senior agent with UniSource's land resources department.
The larger site would produce about 20 megawatts of electricity, while the smaller parcel would produce up to 10 megawatts. Together, they can supply energy to 6,000 homes.
Gibelyou laid out the plan and took questions and comments from the public during an hour-long meeting Thursday evening at Mohave Community College.
He said Unisource would enter into a purchase power agreement, or PPA, leasing the land to a private company that would build the facility and sell power back to the utility company.
Audience member Garret Davis persistently asked how the photovoltaic solar energy facility would benefit Kingman.
How many people will it employ? Can we expect to see lower electric bills? Will UniSource educate people on how to set up their own photovoltaic solar panels?
"A little bit of outreach would be good for Kingman," Davis said. "I really believe in solar energy. I'm not here to fight you."
Construction is expected to take about seven months, so that will provide some jobs and a trickle-down effect for local businesses, Gibelyou said. It's basically an unmanned facility with probably one electrician contracted for maintenance.
As for rates, the cost for solar power is higher than that of natural gas and coal-generated electricity, Gibelyou said. Unfortunately, it will be a while before savings are realized.
So why build it?
"That's a good question, probably for someone higher than me," the UniSource manager said. "Basically, I think the country is looking at alternative energy sources. Eventually, once the efficiency base increases, we'll reach par with other resources."
The Environmental Protection Agency is cracking down on coal-powered plants, having already shut down Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, and that's another reason the government is pushing renewables, Gibelyou noted.
Arizona Corporation Commission set a mandate that electric utilities generate 15 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2025. The commission's Renewable Energy Standards encourage utilities to use solar, wind, geothermal and other technologies to generate "clean" energy to power Arizona's future.
Eileen Jacobson, senior program manager at UniSource, said the ACC set a current surcharge on electric bills that goes toward funding construction of renewable sources of energy.
Gibelyou addressed a number of concerns from nearby residents, including noise, dust, traffic and effect on property values.
He suggested people stand next to the fence around solar panels at La Senita School or Kingman Regional Medical Center. They may hear a click when the panels turn for maximum exposure to the sun during the day, but more noise comes from traffic on Route 66, trains rumbling through Kingman and flight training at the airport, he said.
Traffic will be heavy during construction, but once it's finished, there may be one or two pickups a month going to the facility. Gravel will be laid down on heavy travel areas and other roads will be coated with a polymer for dust control, Gibelyou said.
As for property values, the facility is more than a half-mile from any residential development. A neighbor who doesn't take care of their home would have a worse effect, he said.
The solar facility proposal is tentatively on the agenda for the March 11 meeting of Mohave County Planning and Zoning Commission, and will go before the Board of Supervisors in April.
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