It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that Northern Arizona is windy, but it does take a lot of research to determine whether that wind can be turned into electrical power.
A recent report by the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Sustainable Energy Solutions group found that of the eight Arizona counties studied, Navajo County had the highest percentage of windy land that could be developed for production of energy. The amount of developable land, however, is less than most might suspect.
“In Navajo County, approximately five percent of the land is considered windy land,” the report states.
Of that five percent, 21.9 percent cannot be developed for energy because of environmental, ownership, land use and physical reasons. For example, land that has a slope of greater than 20 percent, or within an urban area, cannot be used for wind energy production even if it meets the definition of “windy land.”
The report defines windy land as “land with a wind resource greater than or equal to class three as predicted by the Arizona Wind Map. That is, predicted annual wind speeds are large enough that wind energy may be produced economically.”
Although five percent minus 21.9 percent may not seem like much, it remains higher than the other counties included in the study. For example, five percent of the land in Coconino County is considered windy land, but 37.4 of that five percent cannot be developed for wind energy. Other counties had even lower amounts of windy land. Apache and Mohave counties each have 3.3 percent windy land, and 20.7 percent of that cannot be developed for energy in Apache County and 73.9 percent cannot be developed in Mohave County. The percentages for other counties drop rapidly, with 2.2 percent windy land in Cochise County, with 90 percent that cannot be developed, 1.5 percent windy land in Graham County, with 88.9 percent that cannot be developed, and .4 percent and .3 percent windy land in Greenlee and Yavapai counties, respectively. In Greenlee County, 88.8 percent cannot be developed and in Yavapai County, 83.9 percent cannot be developed.
In Navajo County, the windiest area appears to be north of Kayenta, near the state line. A large band of class three windy areas appear between Holbrook and Snowflake.
Wind energy developers have already taken note of the class three winds in the area, and PPM Energy is still moving forward with plans to construct a wind farm about 20 miles southwest of Holbrook along State Route 377. Although construction is not expected to begin until at least 2008, the company is working through the lengthy planning process. In April, PPM submitted an application to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for an environmental assessment.
A public hearing was held June 12 in Snowflake. BLM Public Affairs Specialist Diane Drobka reported that only about 14 members of the public attended, but everyone in attendance was supportive of the wind farm project. She also noted that a number of written comments have been received, and even though she has not reviewed them all, the ones she has seen are also positive. Drobka said that the officials from the White Mountain Apache Tribe have indicated that they have no problem with the proposed wind farm. She also explained that Arizona Game and Fish has requested that a wildlife impact analysis be included in the environmental assessment, including information on any effect on area antelope herds.
“The purpose of the assessment is that everyone who has concerns, we address them through the assessment,” she said.
In addition to the impact to wildlife, the environmental assessment will also determine how the wind farm might impact cultural resources, such as archeological sites, land use, such as livestock grazing and recreation, local economies and physical resources, such as water and air.
Drobka said that she did not know how long it might take for the assessment to be completed, but noted that PPM has already had some of the preliminary work done, such as studies on raptor nesting and bird activity near the site. She explained that public comments will determine what additional studies will be included in the assessment.
PPM plans to eventually construct up to 99 wind turbines with underground transmission lines. According to the application filed with the BLM, the project will be done in stages, with up to 42 turbines, which could generate up to 64 megawatts, being constructed on the land in the first phase. Since the lines connecting the turbines to the power grid will be located underground, the turbines, which look like giant windmills, will be the only visible elements of the project. The existing cattle grazing operations in the area will continue.
By Tammy Gray-Searles
4 July 2007
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