TOPOCK, Ariz. — A proposed 1,200-megawatt solar facility that when completed would be one of the largest solar installation in the world is a step closer to breaking ground after receiving approval from Mohave County’s Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone a 10,300- acre parcel.
The proposed $4.5 billion project must still get approval from the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, which will take up the matter at a Nov. 15 meeting, as well as affirmations from the United States Department of Energy and the Treasury Department.
The Sterling Solar Generating Facility is to be built on land north of Lake Havasu, Ariz. Needle Mountain Power, based in Lake Havasu, will build the facility. In spite of being met with little opposition, the process involved five town meetings over a two-year period to obtain local support, according to Carl Flusche, the Sterling project’s co-manager. Flusche says the company faces just a few more obstacles before they can break ground on roads and other infrastructure at the site, which they hope to complete by year-end 2011.
The Sterling facility will require five years of construction to fully build out, Flusche says, but after the first 12 months of building the plant can be connected to the local grid, operated by the DOE’s Western Area Power Administration. Once complete, the Sterling facility could require as many as 500 full-time employees to operate it.
An entity called Topock Mesa Limited Partnership currently owns the proposed site, though the NMP has reached an agreement with the TMLP to purchase the land. Some 2,100 acres of the project site would be set aside for industrial and commercial uses, while approximately 48,000 Stirling Energy Systems’ “SunCatcher” solar dishes would sit on the remaining 8,200 acres of land. Additionally, the Arizona Department of Water Resources has determined that approximately 8,500 acre-feet of water per year is available to meet project water needs for at least 100 years. NMP has been a supporter of Dry Cooling Technologies for this region.
Both permanent and temporary jobs, including some 3,000 construction jobs over the five years of building, as well as property tax income and a new industrial park with rail and highway access to California and other nearby states, are all draws for the county says Buster Johnson, Chair of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors.
“No red flags have come up and I have nobody opposed to the project,” Johnson says. “The biggest thing with the county I always look for is what are they going to do to offset the tax base for everybody else. I look to bring in businesses that bring us the most tax dollars and that require the least amount of services.”
“With the Sterling project, I guess I’m looking long term also,” he added. “While solar is a great thing, the industrial businesses that we can bring in that would have rail service and close proximity to California and Nevada, and still be in our tax bracket, is a tremendous draw for us.”
The region’s approximately “340 days of sunlight” adds to the property’s ideal climate for generating solar electricity, says Flusche.
“That piece of property has got every element that a developer of a solar project could ever want,” Flusche says. “We have sunlight, we have water, we have transmission lines onsite, we have interstate for getting people back and forth, and we have railroad to deliver the product. I don’t know another site in the Southwest that has all the elements to create a successful project like this one has.”
NMP has been asked to work on other solar projects, but nothing near the size of the Sterling facility.
“We’ve pretty much put all that on the backburner until we feel we have everything we need to get this Sterling project off and running,” Flusche says. “As time allows, we’ll get involved in some other stuff maybe.”