Company gets approval from San Luis for solar plant
SAN LUIS, Ariz. — The third time did indeed prove to be a charm for a California company that has sought this city's backing of a solar power plant.
The city council voted 3-2 Wednesday to issue the formal letter of support that Solar Electric Solutions needs as part of its application to Yuma County for a special permit for solar panels that would be located in an unincorporated area on the east side of the city.
The vote, with two council members absent, came after the proposal had been rejected twice previously by the council over the past year.
The Woodland Hills-based firm proposes to locate the panels on 175 acres of state property located south of Juan Sanchez Boulevard and next to Avenue F. The land is near the Baja Substation owned by Arizona Public Service, to which the company proposes to sell electricity generated by the panels.
While the city has no zoning control over the land, the Yuma County Board of Supervisor has declined to approve a special-use permit for the project without the city council's endorsement.
The solar plant has divided the council, with some welcoming its construction as a boost to the city's struggling economy, and still others fearing the project would conflict with future residential development planned in the area. But with the newly elected council members taking office in June, Solar Electric Solutions finally got the votes it needed for the letter.
“We hope they can begin work soon,” said Joe Harper, one of the new councilmen who backed the project. “Clearly they have to take care of other issues, such as the county's approval (of the permit), but we think they are going to approve it.”
“Since we got on the council, we decided we were going to push for it, because we don't see any harm in it for the city,” he added.
Joining Harper in voting for the project were council members Gloria Torres and Matias Rosales. Voting against were Mayor Gerardo Sanchez and Marco Pinzon. Council members Africa Luna and Maria Ramos were not present for the vote.
Before the vote, Harper made a motion that as a condition of the letter of support, Solar Electric Solutions be required to put up $1 million for a public park, a sewer lift station and other infrastructure in the area of the plant, and to establish a fund of another $1 million to restore the land to its original state once the plant reaches the end of its projected 30-year lifespan.
Freeman Hall, president of Solar Electric Solutions, said those conditions are acceptable to the company. He said under the terms of its lease of the land from the federal government, it is already required to restore the land.
“We are very happy that the city council has approved the letter of support,” Hall said. “That is going to make it easier to get the county's approval.”
But Sanchez said the conditions that the city is imposing in return for its support of the project were not discussed by the council prior to Wednesday's vote.
“The change concerns me,” he said. “I am concerned with the way things were done. I always speak about transparency (in government) and clarity. At no time were those changes discussed.”
He repeated previously stated concerns that the project would have no economic benefit for the city beyond creating short-term jobs in the yearlong construction of the plant.
“They say there are going to be 150 jobs, but at no time are all 150 people going to being working at the same time. They are going to employ a certain number of people in phases of six or seven months. Lots of companies like to show off high numbers of jobs, but in reality those jobs exist in stages.”
Plus, he said, the company has provided nothing to prove it has reached an agreement or is close to reaching one with APS for sale of the electricity the plant generates.
Sanchez said he plans to withhold his signature from the letter of support, to show the board of supervisors that the council's endorsement was not unanimous.
The company's permit request could come before the county planning and zoning commission later this month and before supervisors in September.