Box Canyon Solar Project

Box Canyon solar project covers 2,329 acres owned by the State Land Department, 9 miles north of Florence on the west side of State Route 79. The proposed land-use designations would change part of the moderate to low density residential use to green energy use.

FLORENCE — Four solar energy farms outside of Florence, Eloy and Arizona City were approved with major amendments to the Pinal County Comprehensive Plan by the Board of Supervisors Wednesday.

A Box Canyon solar project covers 2,329 acres owned by the State Land Department, 9 miles north of Florence on the west side of State Route 79; the Sonak project covers 1,882 acres southwest of Eloy; the Arizona City project covers 1,667 acres southwest of Arizona City; and Eloy Solar covers 1,252 acres southeast of Eloy.

These projects must now apply for rezoning from the mostly residential zones currently on the land.

The Box Canyon solar and storage project is on land that was previously disturbed by miners and has no saguaro cacti, Jordan Rose, attorney for operator BrightNight, told the board. The solar panels, which follow the sun, will be 6 ½ feet high the majority of the day and will be behind a block wall.

The county’s Citizens Advisory Committee recommended disapproval 8-2 while the Pinal County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval 6-2.

Rose said the project preserves the alignments for Judd and Bella Vista roads, and the power generated would stay in the state. She said two of three nearby property owners — Magma Flood Control District and the Arizona National Guard — support it.

One that doesn’t is Cabarello Development, owner of 640 acres to the west, which plans to build more than 2,000 homes. Timothy LaSota, representing Cabarello, told the board that this solar field would be in the middle of Pinal’s growth corridor, and there’s no way to guarantee the power will stay in Arizona once it goes on the grid.

Ken Robbins, general manager of Electrical District 2 in Pinal County, told the board there’s a high demand for power locally, especially in the summer, and he supports the project. Florence businessman Harold Christ, who has also been a housing developer, said he doubted the land’s potential for housing and said it would likely remain vacant a long time unless the solar project is approved.

Supervisor Jeff Serdy, R-Apache Junction, asked how the project would be decommissioned after 35 years. Rose replied the county will post a bond, and the State Land Department will be “very motivated to make sure it’s done.”

A man who identified himself as one of the owners of Cabarello said the county would be missing out on 8,000 homes and $25 million in annual tax revenue. He continued that lithium battery storage areas are known to catch fire and they’re difficult to extinguish.

Court Rich with Rose Law Group said the company will have training at the site for first responders. He continued that the battery area, with its own fire suppression system, will be “significantly safer than natural gas.” Danny Court, an economist with Elliott D. Pollack, said the solar farm’s tax revenue is “actually substantial,” including $11.4 million to Pinal County and its special taxing districts and $10.6 million to Florence Unified School District.

A woman who said she lived in the Silver Bell community south of Eloy asked the board to reject the Sonak project. She said it would devalue her property enough that she couldn’t afford to move elsewhere. The heat from the panels would “further dry up the little bit of moisture we get in this state” and cause other environmental harm, she said.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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