Planning and zoning approves site plan for solar company

This solar farm located outside Coolidge is similar to other solar projects being proposed. The Coolidge Planning and Zoning Commission approved the site plan for Orsted with a few changes that will be taken back to the company’s team to discuss.

COOLIDGE — Orsted Energy received approval for its site plan with a few revisions during the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing on Oct. 6, while NextEra Energy Resources withdrew its application for the Valley Farms Solar project.

A lawyer for the Valley Farms Project asked that the application be withdrawn and taken off the agenda due to opposition from the public.

Economic Development Services Director Gilbert Lopez said the project could be revisited if the company wanted.

The site plan revisions, which the Orsted team will need to do at its proposed Eleven Mile Solar Center, include a 7-foot block wall on Sunshine Boulevard, equal to the property line of landowner Thomas Bagnall.

Other revisions for Orsted include a setback from the fence to be increased from 50 to 100 feet and for landscaping, although the commission wanted to know who would maintain the trees.

After the meeting Orsted explained that the increased setback would result in 2.8 acre less that could be used for solar generation.

“I will have to talk to my team,” Orsted Project Development Manager Donnie Joe Worth said. “That sounds like it would work with the city’s plan.”

City Manager Rick Miller on Thursday explained that this solar project and the Storey Solar Project have already been approved at the locations, so the discussion about those solar projects is over.

Worth made it very clear that Orsted plans to build as many solar panels as possible on the land.

“Our desire is to use as much as we can,” Worth said.

After Worth said the energy from the solar panel project could provide Salt River Project power for 64,000 homes, he was told no one in the room cares about SRP, which serves the Valley and not Coolidge.

Worth said the solar panels from the ground are about 6 feet high, though he was told by Commissioner Ken Bolan that they appear to be 8 feet and can be seen night and day.

Worth was asked about the landscaping and who would maintain it, and Bolan also wanted to know if there was a budget line the commission could see.

“I wasn’t expecting that question,” Worth said, which resulted in laughter from the packed city council chambers.

Worth said Orsted will be hiring locally for someone to maintain the landscaping, adding he would love to work with the city on a proper management plan to see what works and what does not.

Bagnall said he and Worth had exchanged emails about the project’s possible impacts to his property, saying the proposal made to him was to have a 7-foot block wall.

“I would like to hold him to that,” he said.

Bagnall wanted to know about the letters Orsted sent out on Sept. 29 to nearby landowners, asking them to sign a voluntary agreement in exchange for an annual payment. The amount of the payments was not disclosed.

“I never got (the letter),” Bagnall said. “Maybe, that’s because I am getting a wall.”

He wonders why these letters were sent out just one week before the site plan meeting with the commission.

Bagnall said what he wanted was for the panels to be set back, the landscaping to be properly maintained and the 7-foot block wall.

The commission and the audience were informed that Orsted can make all the commitment it wants about landscaping, but it comes down to a trust issue.

“We are in the process of generating energy,” Worth said. “Our desire is to do as much land as we can. We know we have to come back to fill in the gaps.”

Worth said he still wants to hear any questions nearby landowners might have.

“That is why this process is so important,” he said.

The Storey Solar Project site plan was tabled because some conditions, like dedicated right of way, need to be ironed out.

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