Utah’s first major commercial wind farm could begin development this year on South Mountain near Stockton, according to county and state officials.
Tasco Engineering Company, a Lehi firm specializing in wind-power generation, is proposing to construct between 20 and 38 wind turbines in the area. The company could eventually put in up to 180 turbines, which would provide as much as 70 megawatts of power, according to a contract between Tasco and Rocky Mountain Power. Julie Orchard, with the Utah Public Service Commission, said wind power projects consistently produce about one third of their maximum capacity. Even at that rate, the Pioneer Ridge project in Stockton could power approximately 20,000 homes for a year.
Tasco Engineering refused to comment on its proposed project.
The Stockton area has strong wind-energy potential because it’s situated in a major wind corridor. The tall turbine towers Tasco would build would have large propellers at the top that are able to turn 360 degrees to face into the wind no matter what direction it blows from. Tasco would lease land for the project from private landowners.
Tooele County economic development specialist Nicole Cline believes the renewable energy project will be a boost for Tooele County’s reputation.
“Tooele County has had, in the past, a reputation for being the dumping ground of the West and such. Now here is something that Tooele County is permitting that is a very positive step toward providing renewable energy,” Cline said.
Power generated by the project will by sold to Rocky Mountain Power. Currently the company purchases all of its wind energy from out of state, as none is available in Utah. It’s working to increase the amount of wind power in its system to 1,400 megawatts by 2015.
“Wind power is part of our efforts to create a diverse resource mix,” said Dave Eskelsen, media relations officer with Rocky Mountain Power. “We’re very heavily invested in coal because it is plentiful and low-cost, but we recognize wind power has significant growth potential.”
A Utah State University study about the effects wind energy could have in Tooele County found that a $39 million wind park could bring in $431,000 in property taxes, $347,000 of which would go to local schools.
In addition, USU researchers believe the project could help preserve Tooele County’s traditional way of life.
“Many rural communities want to preserve their way of life and seek economic opportunities that raise local income levels without some of the environmental changes created by urbanization, such as sprawl and traffic congestion,” the study said. “That is, rural communities prefer to attract industry that offers quality jobs, rather than a large number of lower paying jobs. Our analysis suggests that wind development in Tooele County is attractive in that regard, as it would create higher-paying construction and technical jobs for local residents.”
County Commissioner Colleen Johnson believes the number of jobs created will be few, but still expresses support for the project. Some of the windmills could be as high as 100 feet tall, though, and Johnson acknowledges some people might not like the look of wind turbines on the horizon.
“There are a lot of things they’ll have to do before they can finish the project,” she said, while adding, “I think it might be kind of a sight to see.”
“Yes, the wind turbines will be seen on the landscape,” said Cline. “I don’t know any way in the world you can put in something this large and be able to mask it or conceal it in some way. But quite honestly you know I’ve been to wind farms and to me they’re magnificent. I know to someone else they’re not going to be appealing, but as long as we want to watch TV, turn on the lights, and enjoy the comforts of home we’re going to need energy.”
Currently there are no commercial wind farms in the state. A smaller wind farm was recently approved in Spanish Fork. In addition, Utah has two windmills at Camp Williams, and another fairly large one at a private residence in Circleville, as well as a tiny educational turbine at Milford High School.
The project will also be an extra source of income to ranchers who would lease their land to Tasco.
The turbines would be hooked up to the power grid through Rocky Mountain Power, and help power homes throughout the utility’s service area, including Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and Northern California. Power generated would be mixed with the total pool, making it impossible to determine what energy is used where.
Cline said whether the project continues to move ahead and whether it kicks off this year hinges on Tasco.
“We wait with anticipation to see the application come in,” said Cline. “I think it’s going to be a good project. I think it’s going to be a good thing for Tooele County to say, ‘Yes we do care about the environment, and yes, we do care about the world we live in.'”
By Karen Hunt
6 March 2007
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