Solar installation near Holbrook approved
By the look of things, Navajo County may be on the way to becoming a wind and solar power superpower.
The Board of Supervisors at its last meeting approved a 1,000-megawatt solar energy plan on 7,300 acres of high desert northeast of Holbrook. The facility will also include enough batteries to store that power when the sun is shining and release it into the grid to offset peak demand in distant cities.
The project will convert grazing land into energy production.
Supervisor Daryl Seymore said, “This is huge for our county: $1.4 billion in infrastructure that will go into our community and millions of dollars of tax revenue. It will also create jobs.”
The Jeffers Cattle Company has struck a deal with Snowflake Solar LLC. Arizona Public Service has agreed to buy the power, since the solar array will sit near the high-power transmission lines used by the Cholla coal-fired power plant.
The existence of those transmission lines has attracted a succession of wind and solar farms to Navajo County. The facilities will produce a burst of construction jobs, though not nearly as many long-term jobs as the coal-fired plants that have closed in the past five years. The Cholla coal-fired plants are also slated to shut down in the next several years.
Technological breakthroughs have drastically lowered the cost of wind and solar, especially large-scale installations attached to battery farms like the proposed project. A new solar or wind facility now costs less to build, and a lot less to operate, than a coal-fired plant.
The cost of wind energy has dropped 70% and the cost of solar energy by 90% in the last decade, with additional gains on the horizon. As a result, renewables make up 80% of new electricity generation capacity.
Snowflake Solar operates or is building about 20 solar energy facilities across the country. The existing plants are generating 1.6 gigawatts. The parent company is Clenera, which is headquartered in Boise, Idaho.
The project will lie 3.5 miles from the Holbrook Airport, sprawling across the desert on both sides of State Route 77. The facility should operate for at least 35 years with some 2.4 million panels, and generate enough energy to supply 230,000 homes.
The company’s presentation listed some of the local economic gains, including:
- $105 million in property taxes paid over 35 years
- 139 local construction jobs
- 350 total construction jobs
- $1.4 billion in capital investment
- $40 million in local spending during construction
The approval of such megaprojects has become almost routine for the board of supervisors. The staff and the planning commission both recommended approval, and the supervisors agreed unanimously.
For clarity, Supervisor Jason Whiting hastened to declare that he’s not related to Robert Whiting, who presented the plan on behalf of Snowflake Solar. “I just want to reiterate we’re not related and I have never met him and I have no financial interest in this project,” he said.
Robert Whiting said he was interested to discover that the Whitings have such deep roots in the county. “But I’m not that branch of the Whitings.”
The company estimates that construction will start in June of 2026, with the plant generating energy in 2027.