Board extends Bowie power plant permit
Sierra Vista Herald
BISBEE — With a unanimous vote, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved an extension on a special-use permit that will allow construction of a natural gas power plant to begin.
SouthWestern Power Group II General Manager David Getts said he was pleased with the decision and appreciated the support shown for the project.
“With this extension, we have the opportunity to move forward and start construction,” he said. “This is a groundbreaking plant in Arizona. The Bowie power plant will be one of the most progressive plants in the state. It is clean enough to be permitted in California.”
The vote came after a long discussion involving Supervisor Paul Newman and two guest speakers he requested be allowed to speak via telephone. The two are considered to be experts by Newman, who wanted to add conditions to the permit stating dry cooling be used to preserve the water table in the Bowie area and that the company would commit to the construction of a solar facility.
“I have a problem with approving it as it stands,” Newman said. “The state of Nevada now requires dry cooling and that’s a state with water problems like we have. … Arizona is also looking into it.”
Getts said there are no dry cooling plants in operation in the state.
Newman continued, saying he received a number of letters that urged him to seek a strong commitment to solar energy, no matter the cost.
While SouthWestern is involved in a bidding competition to build what could be the first solar plant in the state, the competition is stiff. There is no guarantee that SouthWestern will win the bid, Newman said. Therefore, he wants a solar power commitment by SouthWestern, whether the company wins the bid or not.
Newman asked the other supervisors to table the request for a month so that a better study of dry cooling, water use and fissure occurrence could be done as part of the decision-making process.
Getts, however, told the supervisors that any new design work on the plant to add dry cooling components would tack another year or two onto the project’s timeline.
Plans with the dry cooling components would have to go before the Arizona Corporation Commission for approval. It would be like a new project.
“I wouldn’t debate the merits of dry cooling, but there are costs associated with the technology, as well as visual impacts and increased pollution,” Getts said.
Dry cooling does save water. On the other hand, it also creates pollution in that more power is needed to run the fans.
Bill Powers, a San Diego engineer and consultant called on by Newman, confirmed the cost would jump around $24 million just to add the dry cooling component. The upshot, he said, is that water use would drop 98 percent, a considerable savings, especially in regard to the area’s agriculture and drought conditions.
Richard Searle, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, agreed that water could be saved by going to dry cooling, but he feels the downside of using more fuel to make the electricity to run the fans is a bigger problem.
Newman’s other expert, Wick Communications Co. environmental liaison Richard Kamp, pointed out that a cone of depression exists around the Cochise Power Plant, a coal-burning plant in the northeastern corner of the county. In other places within the county, fissures are growing in number due to groundwater pumping and land subsidence.
Members of the public at the meeting also gave their opinions — some for the plant, some against.
During the discussion between the supervisors, Searle said, “How material is it to trade off carbon dioxide emissions for water? It takes more power to dry cool, which uses more gas, which makes more emissions. A hydrology study indicates the potential for the water table to drop 20 feet. The long-term effect is substantial. But what would happen if the land went back to agriculture? More water would be used.”
He suggested subsidence and water use should have been issues five years ago when the board approved the rezoning for the plant.
“I see no reason to put a burden on one property owner when his neighbor can use all the water he wants,” Searle said. “I don’t want to quash economic development in Bowie and the valley. We’re trading agricultural land for a utility. It’s not an easy decision to come to. I’ve been thinking about it for months. The ACC looked at it and approved it. They have the expertise; we don’t. It would be hard to go against the ACC.”
Supervisor Pat Call said he did not need a month to reach a conclusion and saw no reason to prolong the project.
So, rather than require dry cooling and solar as conditions of approval, the supervisors added this wording instead: “It is the preference of the board that SWPG gives consideration to dry cooling and expanding its solar footprint.”
Getts said that if all goes well, and SouthWestern finds the needed investors, construction on the plant will begin after the first of the year.