Wind power could be a new cash crop for farmers and ranchers in Utah, say researchers who were awarded a federal grant to promote small, independent wind farms.
Utah State University business professors Edwin Stafford and Cathy Hartman released the second of two reports Friday. The first was a general summary of the economic benefits of small-scale wind farms. The second was an examination of hypothetical wind farms in Tooele and Box Elder counties.
Analysis of the Economic Impact on Tooele County, Utah, from the Development of Wind Power Plants
Of the two, Box Elder County has more potential for wind power, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Energy, which found most of Utah’s wind power is along inaccessible high mountain ranges.
Tooele County’s best sites are rated marginal or fair ““ and the best sites are high along the Oquirrh mountain range, far from high-voltage power lines. Wind developers say proximity to existing power lines is one of the most important considerations for choosing a site.
Box Elder County has areas rated good and excellent for wind power, although they aren’t near any high-voltage power lines, either.
Stafford’s team was awarded $500,000 in July 2005 by the Department of Energy to promote wind power in Utah, where it has yet to take off. He sought to appeal to the state’s entrepreneurial spirit and de-emphasize wind power’s environmental benefits, which don’t resonate well in conservative Utah.
Utah ranks 26th in the nation for wind energy potential, according to a 1991 Pacific Northwest Laboratory report, yet the state has developed very little of that. Utah gets about 95 percent of its electricity from burning coal.
Utah’s installed wind power capacity is less than 1 megawatt, from two turbines at Camp Williams, a National Guard base 26 miles south of Salt Lake City.
A megawatt is enough to power about 300 houses at any given time.
Tracy Livingston of Wasatch Wind is planning Utah’s first commercial wind park. The 18.9-megawatt project at the mouth of Spanish Fork, south of Provo, is scheduled to be completed by December 2007.
Other states with equivalent wind potential have developed much more of it. Stafford found that Washington state, which ranks 24th in the nation for wind energy potential, had developed 390 megawatts of wind capacity to Utah’s 0.885 megawatts.
Utah’s landowners could benefit from royalties on wind development, says Stafford and Hartman’s 32-page report.
“In recent years, farmers and ranchers have found it increasingly difficult to earn a living from traditional crops and cattle, causing them to search for ‘off-farm’ resources of income,” Hartman said. “Wind turbines use only a small footprint of land; farmers and ranchers can continue their agricultural operations.”
Their calculations show that a small-scale wind project in Box Elder County would generate $377,000 in annual property taxes, with about $248,000 of that going to local schools.
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