The proposed site for Maricopa Orchards’ solar energy complex was composed of 6,000-acres of undeveloped agricultural land which potentially harbored a wide variety of threatened, endangered, and protected species. The large project size, broadly separated configuration of the project, and close proximity of existing wildlife populations created the potential for taking of species and affect a wildlife dispersal corridor. Impacts of the project needed to be identified and documented, avoidance and minimization measures developed, compensatory lands acquired, and permits from regulatory agencies acquired. Of primary concern was that the landowner, Maricopa Orchards, was not envisioned to be the developer, but rather properties would be pre-permitted for solar development, and then sold or leased to solar developing interests.
QK worked with Maricopa Orchards to conduct all studies required for the development of a 700-MW solar project on private lands without federal subsidies. QK conducted all required studies, coordinated and consulted with resource agency staff, provided all applications and plans for all project permits, and created the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Plan (MMRP) for the project. QK also developed management plans for the compensatory lands, which were also owned by Maricopa Orchards. Several unique and never-before-attempted solutions to agency concerns were developed including a “springing” conservation easement that was applied to solar lands and a phased approach to compensation and mitigation.
All project permits were approved, the environmental process completed, one 160-acre solar facility has been constructed, and nearly 80-percent of the land entitled for solar has now been sold or is in escrow. An extremely low mitigation ratio was negotiated, based upon site-specific conditions, that resulted in a compensation ratio of approximately 0.5 acres preserved for each acre of solar developed, plus the conversion of solar lands to conservation lands once decommissioning of the solar sites is realized.