The hills of the Mule Mountains may become a test site for the first wind turbine generating plant in the county.
Clipper Windpower has confirmed that negotiations are under way for land in the development of a small test site of around six propeller-style wind turbines. The company hopes to lease an unspecified number of acres that are owned by the State Land Department in the area of Davis Road and High Lonesome Road. Company officials also are talking to one landowner in the area hoping to secure a portion of that land as well.
Mary McCann-Gates, Clipper Windpower spokeswoman, said, “The state of Arizona recently enacted legislation to encourage the development of renewable energy electricity production to deliver 15 percent of Arizona’s electrical capacity from renewable sources by year 2025. In support of this target, Clipper is exploring the feasibility of clean, pollution-free wind power generation in the Cochise County area. The initial step to developing a wind energy project is identifying wind energy resource areas that could provide a long-term home for a wind project.
“When potential project areas are identified, local permits are requested to install wind speed and directional devices we refer to as anemometer towers. At this point, Clipper is in the process of identifying potential areas that might possibly be appropriate for wind energy development in Cochise County. As potential sites are identified and permits for the placement of anemometers are acquired, the potential wind resource is measured from anywhere between six months and five or more years. Once a potential wind resource is established, Clipper may also begin to explore both the environmental impact and benefits to the local area to better determine the feasibility of the potential project.”
McCann-Gates anticipates the project could lead to a 50-megawatt site or larger.
“Once built, a project’s wind turbines, roads and substation will utilize only a small footprint, or less than 1 percent of the project’s overall land area, thus, for the most part, it remains as open space, or can be used or continue to be used for agricultural purposes. On average, each turbine will use about 1/4 to 1/2 acre. Upon project start-up and operation, the project’s landowners will begin to receive regular payments in accordance with their land lease agreements. In addition to providing a secondary income to local landowners, wind energy projects provide economic development benefits to the area, including a substantial increase in the local tax base and the creation of high-paying jobs in construction, maintenance and operations,” she added.
According to a study by Northern Arizona University, Cochise County does have some sites that would be adequate to provide enough wind to power the turbines. But, around 90 percent of county land is excluded from consideration for such development due to a variety of reasons, from environmental to state and federal lands, like the U.S. Forest Service, Arizona State Forestry Division and Department of Defense.
“We are still in the preliminary stages of planning,” McCann-Gates said. “There’s a lot to be determined. Is it a good size piece of property? Is it windy there most of the time? Are there power lines close by? If so, then the property just may be a great future wind energy project site. An ideal candidate site simply combines a good wind resource, transmission access and the availability of enough land with minimal to no potential environmental impact.”
Once a candidate site is located, a wind resource assessment is conducted to help assess economic feasibility. Local historical wind data is sourced, or if no local wind data exists, an anemometer tower and equipment used to measure and monitor the wind resource is installed at the proposed site.
McCann-Gates explained that the wind is measured and data is recorded for a period of time, usually over at least one year, to capture seasonal differences and forecast long-term wind patterns. At the same time, local, state and federal regulations are considered. If the project is developed, all requirements are adhered to, including aviation safety, wetlands impacts, stormwater and erosion control, wildlife, cultural and historic impacts, and transportation impacts. Typically, a viable wind project will have a minimum average annual wind speed around 15-18 mph.
Once all environmental assessments are complete and appropriate documents have been finalized by the landowner and project developer to facilitate the use of the land, engineering activities for the proposed project begin with project construction following.
While project development activities are similar at each site, each project is unique, she said. From measuring the wind resource to acquiring the land necessary to build the project, to engineering, to debt and equity financing, to any number of combinations of challenges, a wind project can take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete the development process alone.
The Clipper Wind Web site states, “Once the project location has been determined, getting the needed environmental and siting permits in place can be challenging. Unfortunately, not all windy sites are suitable for wind project development. Aesthetics, bird migration, height restrictions, sound, and endangered species are some of the many areas that need to be carefully researched and addressed by the developers. Every site has its own zoning regulations, local ordinances, and permitting requirements, so developers will often use local professionals in the project area to guide them through the process.”
If the Mule Mountain site is selected as a viable candidate for generating electricity from wind, Clipper Wind will need to go before the county planning and zoning commission.
Susana Montana, senior planner, said a work session with Clipper Wind and the commission would be scheduled possibly in May, so the commissioners can learn about the pros and cons of wind power.
The planning and zoning docket was pulled and the public hearing postponed until Clipper Wind could obtain a lease agreement with public lands, according to Keith Dennis, county planner. The docket states, “The application for a special use permit calls for the placement of two unmanned, 60-meter (197 feet) high towers in two separate locations to collect wind and other data for analysis. This project is a feasibility study for the possible placement of future wind-power generating stations.”
Resident opposes proposal, says wind insufficient
Last December, Jim Alexander was contacted by the Planning and Zoning Department to inform him of the proposed project. He indicated via e-mail that only two property owners were contacted, himself and Dennis Maroney of the 47 Ranch. By regulation, planning and zoning has to notify property owners within 1,500 feet of the proposed project.
Alexander has formed Save the Mule Mountains to mount opposition to the wind project.
“Since that time we have been very busy trying to obtain all the information we can on wind power facilities,” Alexander said. “The wind maps and studies indicate that for Cochise County the only viable locations for wind generating facilities are the ridge lines of the mountains. Unfortunately the valleys in Cochise County do not have sufficient winds. I would also amend the estimated amount of roads and transmission lines downward, as we do not know exactly how many towers could be installed in the proposed project area. The area has to hold a minimum of 40 towers at 2.5 MW per tower, to make the project economically viable.”
By Shar Porier
7 April 2008
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