On heels of president’s climate plan, Interior approves large Ariz. wind project

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 1, 2013

The Obama administration has granted final approval to a sprawling wind power project stretching across nearly 40,000 acres of public land in northwest Arizona that would become the state’s largest wind farm.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today that the agency will issue a record of decision (ROD) approving Houston-based BP Wind Energy North America Inc.’s 500-megawatt Mohave County Wind Farm Project. The project would string together as many as 243 wind turbines across 35,000 acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management and 2,800 acres of Bureau of Reclamation land.

The wind farm project is expected to create about 750 jobs through construction and operation of the plant, which would have the capacity to produce enough electricity to power up to 175,000 homes.

The ROD comes just days after President Obama announced a far-ranging plan to combat climate change in which he challenged the Interior Department to approve an additional 10,000 MW of renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020.

That effort, the president said, would not only increase the amount of energy that the United States generates from clean energy sources and help reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere but would also give American businesses a boost in the global race to lead the clean energy economy (E&E Daily, June 26).

“These are exactly the kind of responsible steps that we need to take to expand homegrown, clean energy on our public lands and cut carbon pollution that affects public health,” Jewell said in a statement. “This wind energy project shows that reducing our carbon pollution can also generate jobs and cut our reliance on foreign oil.”

With the approval of the Mohave County Wind Farm, the Obama administration since 2009 has approved 46 solar, wind and geothermal power projects covering nearly 300,000 acres of federal land with a total capacity, if built, to produce more than 13,000 MW of electricity — enough to power nearly 4.5 million homes.

The Mohave County Wind Farm is the 10th commercial-scale wind project approved by the administration since 2009, and one of six wind projects BLM identified as priorities to complete the permitting process by year’s end. If all six projects are built, they will cover more than 70,000 acres of BLM land and have the capacity to produce more than 1,100 MW of electricity, or enough to power more than 380,000 homes (Greenwire, Feb. 6).

The Obama administration’s renewable energy development efforts have been so successful to date that Interior last year announced it had already met a goal established in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to approve roughly 10,000 MW of nonhydropower renewable energy projects on federal land by 2015.

BP Wind Energy “is pleased that the Department of Interior has moved swiftly to file the Record of Decision,” about a month after BLM published a final environmental impact statement (EIS) analyzing the project, said Matt Hartwig, a company spokesman.

Hartwig said the company does not have a construction start date for the $1 billion project because it has not yet secured a power purchase agreement to sell the electricity produced at the wind farm. BP officials have said the company plans to market the wind farm’s electricity to utilities in Arizona, Nevada and California.

“For our part, BP Wind Energy is hard at work seeking to secure a purchaser for the power,” Hartwig said in an email. “Securing an offtaker for the power will drive the timeline for when the project moves into construction.”

Arizona’s wind potential

The Mohave County Wind Farm project approved today is a modified version of the one BP originally proposed four years ago and different from the project layout BLM evaluated in the draft EIS last year.

The company and BLM worked together to shave off roughly 10,000 acres from the original layout in an effort to address environmental concerns, as well as potential noise and visual impacts to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, just north of the proposed project site, and nearby private property owners.

The approved project layout removed turbines from the northwest corner of the project site after golden eagle nests were identified in the area. Removing the turbines also addressed noise and visual concerns at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area; the National Park Service had asked BLM not to allow BP to place new turbines in the northwest corner.

In total, the approved project alternative forbids placing turbines within a 1.2-mile buffer area of the eagle nests. It also calls for a minimum quarter-mile setback from nearby private lands.

“The project reflects exemplary cooperation between our BLM and Bureau of Reclamation and other federal, state and local agencies, enabling a thorough environmental review and robust mitigation provisions,” Neil Kornze, BLM’s principal deputy director, said today in a statement. “This decision represents a responsible balance between the need for renewable energy and our mandate to protect the public’s natural resources.”

There could be a lot more wind development coming to Arizona in the coming years, too.

Wind energy advocates say there are many potential wind hot spots in Arizona, in the northwest side of the state but also in north-central Arizona.

Wind resource data compiled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory ranked Arizona No. 27 for potential installed wind power capacity.

Still, the state has about 238 MW of installed commercial-scale wind power, according to statistics compiled by the American Wind Energy Association, which estimates there are projects with the capacity to produce an additional 2,886 MW of electricity in the queue.

Much of the installed wind power capacity to date — 130 MW, or enough to power about 50,000 homes — represents one wind farm, Iberdrola Renewables Inc.’s Dry Lake facility near Snowflake in north-central Arizona. The two-phase project was completed in December 2010.

The American Wind Energy Association has estimated there is 10,904 MW of installed wind power potential in the state. Overall, NREL estimates wind power could supply 40 percent of the state’s current electricity needs.

In addition to the Mohave County Wind Farm, BLM is reviewing five other pending applications for wind projects in the state that would cover about 60,000 acres of federal land.

“Arizona has a high-quality wind resource, and wind power developers would like to do more business in the state,” said Sarah Propst, executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance, a trade association that represents the leading companies in the renewable energy industry in six Western states, including Arizona. “As utilities’ resource mixes shift in response to the president’s climate policy announcements this week, I think we’ll see more opportunities for wind in states like Arizona.”