If this year is anything to go on, renewable energy may have a bright future in northern Arizona.
Last week, water and power utility Salt River Project announced it would be working with the Boise-based renewable energy company Clēnera to locate a new large-scale solar facility northwest of Flagstaff.
The new facility, dubbed CO Bar Solar, is being built in partnership with Babbitt Ranches.
It is not the only renewable energy project proposed on Babbitt Ranches land; the organization has sought to use renewable energy projects to help support its more traditional ranching operations and prevent the breakup of ranch lands.
Just last month, Babbitt Ranches and Florida-based NextEra Energy received approval for a conditional use permit from the Coconino County Planning and Zoning Commission on a 160-megawatt wind farm project that will also include several hundred acres of solar panels.
Clēnera Vice President of Business Development Jared McKee said what Babbitt Ranches has brought to the table in terms on involvement is fairly unique when compared to other renewable projects they have worked on.
“They are not your typical landowner. They are doing things from a conservation standpoint that are unique. And we’re very happy that we have been able to partner with them, have a similar vision and have alignment of what we feel is important and that is stewardship over the land,” McKee told the Arizona Daily Sun.
Babbitt Ranches President and General Manager Billy Cordasco said the project has been about four years in the making. SRP then became involved after the utility released a request for proposals in 2020 seeking additional renewable projects.
“For us, renewable energy, open space, landscape-scale conservation, recreation and agricultural practices all have to work together,” Cordasco said in a statement.
The newly proposed CO Bar Solar facility will be designed to generate 400 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to meet the needs of 80,000 homes.
The exact location of the project is currently unclear, as nether Babbitt Ranches or officials with Clēnera were willing to speak to the location at this time. But it appears the project will be located in the vicinity of the NextEra wind farm, which is east of the community of Grand Canyon Junction/Valle.
A spokesperson for SRP said the CO Bar Solar project is planned for an area about 40 miles northwest of Flagstaff, off of Highway 180.
Wherever it ends up being erected, the solar infrastructure is expected to occupy 2,400 acres of private Babbitt Ranch land and would include approximately 800,000 solar panels, said McKee.
The exact number of panels could depend on the specific type of panel they end up using, McKee said.
The facility will then also contain infrastructure to help transfer the power generated by the facility and put it onto the grid.
McKee said CO Bar represented a “significant investment” into Arizona for Clēnera but said he wouldn’t speak to specific numbers at this point in time.
McKee added that the solar project is also only the first of several new solar projects Clēnera is working on within the state, and northern Arizona residents should expect to see their name again.
“We have two other contracted projects in northern Arizona. And then we have two other contracted projects in southern Arizona that are either going to be starting construction by the beginning of next year or sometime in 2023,” McKee said, adding that the two northern Arizona projects are also in the vicinity of Flagstaff.
Clēnera currently operates a solar facility near Sahuarita, located south of Tucson.
McKee said construction on the new facility is expected to begin in 2023.
Over the course of the 18-month construction timeline, it is expected that approximately 550 construction jobs will be created, with many being local, according to a media release.
The facility would then be operational in 2024. The facility will then have an expected lifespan of about 35 years.
“We’re looking forward to getting in front of the county [for approval] as soon as possible,” McKee said.
The investment in renewable energy in northern Arizona comes a year after state utility companies made commitments to move largely to renewable energy sources within the next few decades.
SRP spokesperson Erica Sturwold said the utility is seeking to transition to 90% renewables by 2050, including 2,025 megawatts of new solar power production by 2025.
“This brings us to over 1,500 megawatts of our overall goal,” Sturwold said. “Just before this announcement, we had announced three solar plants. [The CO Bar Solar] is one of many but it is our most substantial, that’s for sure, in terms of solar plants that SRP is building.”
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