Utah could be on the verge of a wind energy breakthrough, but it’s lacking one vital resource to make it a reality – political willpower.
“If we could convince Gov. (Jon) Huntsman that renewables were as important as Real soccer, we could probably have wind turbines up in a matter of months,” said San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams. “I just don’t think that elected and public officials are educated enough to really understand what’s going on in the industry.”
Adams and a panel of industry experts wrapped up the three-day Harvesting Energy Summit at the Utah State Fairgrounds Wednesday with a discussion on the potential wind has to augment the state’s power grid. The talk was sponsored by Utah State University.
Across the United States, wind energy accounts for the production of more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity and in 2005, the U.S. ranked third in the world in its wind capacity, according to Windustry, a nonprofit wind energy advocacy group.
But it’s a different story in Utah, which boasts just one megawatt of developed wind.
“Across the country, we’re surrounded by folks with hundreds or thousands of megawatts (generated by wind.) We’re really low on the totem pole,” said Sara Baldwin, community programs coordinator for Utah Clean Energy.
Partly to blame is the state’s lack of a wind resource map to help identify areas most conducive for energy generation projects, said Wasatch Wind General Manager Tracy Livingston.
“It’s just like going to Vegas and playing the tables. You have no idea what you’re going to wind up with. That’s a lot of risk” for companies to take, he said.
While the use of wind energy remains a largely exotic prospect for power companies in Utah, Logan has leaned on it since 2004, when it purchased five megawatts from the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems’ 144 megawatt investment in a southeastern Wyoming wind farm.
These days, city leaders have their eye on a new form of renewable energy – geothermal – that’s fast emerging as a viable baseload power source. Logan leaders said it’s an affirmation of their commitment to incorporate green energy into the city’s grid.
“It’s really going to take us as a municipal power system and others to invest in these types of renewables so the industry will grow,” said Municipal Councilman Steve Thompson. “I think we’re doing the smart thing and the right thing.”
Richard Campbell, who chairs the state’s Public Commission Service, said wind development is still cost prohibitive in Utah but is
quickly catching up to its peers on that front.
“There’s no quick solution to getting wind here,” he said. “Clearly, price is still the No. 1 barrier.”
And for power companies, wind is fast becoming an attractive option thanks to its fixed-market rates and relatively consistent generation ability, UAMPS General Manager Doug Hunter said.
“Our communities like stabilized power costs. We’d like to see more wind online across the West,” said Hunter, whose organization counts 49 participating municipalities across six states. “I really think the best thing you can do as an industry is continue to push it along and bring it in using prior examples and get the utilities to buy it.”
Even on the heels of Senate Bill 223 – the body’s omnibus tax bill that cleared the Legislature Wednesday with language providing renewable energy tax credits to individuals and businesses – Adams said policymakers will need to see proof that wind power can work in Utah before they embrace it.
“As soon as we get one project, turbine envy all over the state will be heightened extremely,” he said.
By Adam Benson
2 March 2007
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