Tucson Electric Power Co. has won state approval to buy power from a planned wind energy farm near Willcox that would be the first utility-scale project of its kind in Southern Arizona.
The Arizona Corporation Commission approved the 20-year power purchase agreement between TEP and Red Horse Wind 2 LLC, which was formed by Houston-based Torch Renewable Energy to build and manage the 220-acre project.
Construction is expected to start later this year, pending environmental studies, and the farm is expected to go online in 2014.
Starting in December 2014, TEP will be able to buy most of the plant's 51-megawatt capacity, plus up to 3 megawatts of solar energy, which will fulfill about 1 percent of the utility's renewable energy requirement. The state has mandated that TEP and other regulated utilities get power equal to 15 percent of their retail sales from renewable sources by 2025.
TEP already is buying the output of the 50-megawatt Macho Springs Wind Farm, near Deming in southwestern New Mexico.
The Red Horse 2 project was chosen from among 10 proposals from eight developers received under a 2011 request for bids, the company said in documents filed with the state.
Planned for the Allen Flat area about 20 miles west of Willcox, Red Horse 2 will feature up to 28 wind turbines more than 450 feet tall. The project, which has won strong backing from area business and economic-development groups, is expected to cost $100 million to $125 million.
Red Horse 2 received a special-use permit from the Cochise County Planning and Zoning Commission in April, despite concerns raised by area residents about turbine noise and aesthetics and environmentalists' concerns about dangers to wildlife including birds and bats.
The Arizona chapter of the National Audubon Society subsequently appealed the permit approval. At a hearing in June, the Cochise supervisors denied the appeal but added conditions including the requirement that Red Horse 2 work with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to study the plant's possible impact on birds and bats, and take steps needed to mitigate any impacts.
Wind turbines are blamed for bird deaths estimated in the hundreds of thousands to millions annually.
The company says environmental studies are expected to be completed this fall, with construction to follow early in 2014.
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