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5:44 PM Sun, Nov. 18th

County extends time for solar power plant environmental studies

Mohave County Board of Supervisors granted a time extension for developers of a solar power plant near I-40 and Highway 95. (Adobe Images)

Mohave County Board of Supervisors granted a time extension for developers of a solar power plant near I-40 and Highway 95. (Adobe Images)

KINGMAN – With support from a couple residents in the Sterling area, the developer of a solar power plant project that’s been in the planning stages since 2010 was granted a two-year time extension Tuesday to complete environmental studies and other government requirements.

Mohave County’s Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the extension, turning back a recommendation for denial by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Supervisors Buster Johnson and Jean Bishop opposed the time extension, citing the lack of progress and improvements for the solar power plant in the area north of the Interstate 40 and State Highway 95 interchange.

The board voted 3-2 on three separate agenda items related to the solar project: amendment to the Mohave County General Plan; amendment to the Sterling Area Plan Desert Hills Fire District Area Plan; and rezone to heavy manufacturing and solar photovoltaic overlay.

Robert Hibbs, manager of Sterling Solar, said the major hang-up with the project involves the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, that requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effect of proposed developments.

The $450 million solar project is complicated and will require at least a couple more years of study, he said. Meanwhile, the developer has invested about $1 million in the project.

“It is an extensive and elaborate process,” Hibbs told the board. “We’re kind of on the national stage and the economic winds blow in all directions. Many of these things are out of our control.”

The last national election made a “significant difference,” he added, as groups that were interested in financing the project had to back away.

Hibbs told Supervisor Bishop that his group has spent $150,000 in the last couple of years on the studies, and that other groups are spending $100,000 on engineering studies.

Bishop said the project has been on the table for eight years, and Sterling has yet to come up with a power purchase agreement to sell the electricity generated by the solar power plant.

Golden Shores Fire Chief Chad Villamor spoke in support of the project, backing what the residents had said about Sterling being “good neighbors” working on putting in a road that would provide access to about 10,000 acres.

The roads right now are nearly impassible, and a helicopter is called in for emergencies, he said. The solar plant would also increase the tax base and provide employment.

Supervisor Hildy Angius said she couldn’t understand why the county would want to stop the solar project if nobody’s against it. She asked Development Services Director Tim Walsh to explain the reason for recommending denial.

Walsh said his staff was given no record of progress at the time of the application.

Chris Ballard, manager of the planning and zoning division, added that the board adopted a schedule of development about five or six years ago, and that policy said there would be documented progress from time to time.

“That policy kind of binds us for recommendation to deny,” she said.

Supervisor Johnson said people were making the county the “scapegoat” for the project not going forward, but Sterling needed a power purchase agreement before anything goes forward.