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Interior Department gives OK for wind-power project in Mohave County

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WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior on Friday approved a 500-megawatt wind-power farm near Kingman, a project that could cost up to $800 million and bring hundreds of construction jobs to the Mohave County area.

The proposed facility, on 38,000 acres of federal land near Squaw Peak, would ultimately have a full-time operations staff of about 30 once it started generating power, supporters said.

“We are grateful to have it in Arizona, to bring renewable resources and also economic benefit to the area, to do a little bit more to combat climate change,” said Dennis Godfrey, spokesman for the Arizona office of the Bureau of Land Management.

He could not say when construction might begin and the project developer, BP Wind Energy North America Inc., did not immediately respond to a request Friday for that information. But Godfrey said the company will have to have power purchase agreements in hand from energy buyers before it can break ground.

The project calls for 243 wind turbines that could ultimately generate up to 500 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 175,000 homes, according to the Interior Department.

The project was scaled back from previous plans because to address concerns about neighbors and wildlife in the area.

Godfrey said overall footprint of the project was reduced by 19 percent to protect golden eagle habitat and to reduce visual and noise impact on the Lake Mead National Recreational Area. An eagle nesting area on Squaw Peak was placed off-limits, and no turbine will be closer than a quarter-mile to private property.

“We feel like we have a good plan in place,” Godfrey said.

In addition to the smaller footprint, the government also limited the “use of turbines during nesting seasons for the golden eagle” and provided a 1.2-mile buffer zone to protect the nests, Godfrey said.

“Issues that come up have been addressed,” said Godfrey, adding that he did not think anyone will be upset by the project at this point in the process.

BP spokesman Matt Hartwig said in an emailed statement that the company worked hard to get to this point, and was pleased that the government “has moved swiftly to file the decision” on its application.

BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze said in a prepared statement that the decision “represents a responsible balance between the need for renewable energy and our mandate to protect the public’s natural resources.”

The Mohave County Economic Development Department estimates that the project will indirectly create about 20 jobs, in addition to the 30 or so people who would work on the wind farm. Total annual payroll for those new jobs would be about $2.6 million, they estimate.

“We are in full support and hope to see this project continue to move forward toward a successful groundbreaking,” said Bennett Bratley, the department’s acting director of economic development.

Friday’s announcement marked the second time this month that the government has given a green-light to a renewable energy project in Arizona. The Interior Department in early June approved a 100-megawatt solar power project proposed for Quartzsite.

The Quartzsite Solar Energy Project could ultimately employ about 50 workers and generate enough electricity to power 30,000 homes, supporters said. Developers said they hope to break ground next year and begin generating power by 2015.