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New wind blows: Idea to put turbines on ranch raising discussion about renewable energy  

BISBEE – Dennis Maroney, owner/operator of the 47 Ranch, looks over the map that shows the thousands of acres of private and leased public land that provides food for his natural beef cattle herd.

He points to a small “x” on the slope of the northeastern section of the Mule Mountains and says that’s where Clipper Windpower plans to install an anemometer to measure wind speed and direction. Farther south, another “x” marks a less-appealing test site for a second anemometer.

“This is a fragile area,” said Maroney as he tapped on the second “x.” “The higher elevations of the mountains are not a good location for wind turbines.”

He worries about the environmental damage that could occur if a wind turbine power generating installation goes up in the high slopes. Road construction alone could cause irreparable damage.

“They have to truck these things in. The blades have 150-foot blades and the towers may be 300 feet high. Though the towers come in sections, that’s still a huge load and trucks will not be able to make the switch-back turns to get up there,” he added. “Building roads would be a major deal in the higher elevations.”

The Maroneys have designated several thousand acres as conservation easements so that no one can ever develop the property. It will remain a natural habitat for several species of plants, birds and mammals that have yet to make the threatened or endangered list, but are close to the specification.

Maroney and his wife, Deb, have been off the grid for the past 17 years. It hasn’t been a hardship because of the ample sun for solar power generation and the nearly constant wind that produces power as well.

“Wind is a natural direction to go in. It blows here all the time. It’s a good spot for a wind project,” he said. “We need alternative energy sources.”

A perk to having the turbines on his private land, if the project data proves the sites to be feasible, is that they will get a rebate from Clipper Windpower for the electricity.

“Ranchers have a hard time making money. This is a rough business. If we can gain a check every month from the power, that’s good for us. This is an operation that could easily go alongside of a ranching operation,” he said.

So just what are the regulations concerning the construction of wind turbine power generating projects?

That’s one of the questions that the Cochise County Planning and Zoning Commission will be asking at Wednesday’s work session on wind power prompted by Clipper Windpower’s excursion into the county. And they have asked some leaders in the renewable energy industry to come and talk about the in’s and out’s of wind turbines.

The Planning and Zoning Commission members will hear about the 2006 renewable energy requirements adopted by the Arizona Corporation Commission from Adam Stafford, who works as a policy adviser for Commissioner William Mundell.

The corporation commission has set a mandatory policy that requires power producers to generate 15 percent of the power through renewable energy sources by 2025.

The commission also set a requirement that the power companies must get a smaller portion of generated power from the rooftops of homes or businesses, Stafford explained in a phone interview. Currently, there are no wind power generating plants in Arizona.

The commission’s Renewable Energy Standards allow utilities to use solar, wind, biomass, biogas, geothermal and other similar technologies to generate “clean” energy to power Arizona’s future. The rules package outlines what technologies qualify and allow for new and emerging technologies to be added as they become feasible, Stafford said.

They also require a percentage of the total resource portfolio to come from distributed generation – residential rooftops or non-utility owned installations. The distributed energy requirement starts at 5 percent of the total portfolio in 2007 and grows to 30 percent of the total renewable mix after 2011.

Stafford pointed out that in many cases, distributed generation installations – such as a large solar installation on the roof of a shopping mall, or solar panels at someone’s home – qualify for utility rebates or state and federal tax breaks that offset some of the upfront costs.

Professor William Auberle, research director at Northern Arizona University, also will attend and discuss in part some of the results of the wind energy assessment for Cochise County. It was one of four counties the study looked at for possible wind projects. Historical data was provided by the National Weather Service.

Auberle said in a phone interview that northern Arizona, particularly Coconino County, had more potential for large-scale wind projects, but some areas in the county may hold promise.

“It’s a heck of a lot better in Cochise than in the western part of Arizona,” Auberle said. “However, we do know from our research that some areas should not have wind farms due to migration patterns.”

In fact, around 90 percent of the county contains areas that should be excluded for one reason or another. Wind farms cannot be constructed on land in national parks. There are other environmental exclusions that apply, including land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state-owned land, as well as wildlife, wilderness and certain recreation lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management. The use of slopes over 11 degrees in grade are also excluded from development, according to the study.

That boils down to just 2.13 percent of the land in the county that could be used for wind farms. The study also shows that the actual capacity for wind power in the county is 276 megawatts.

And though birds and bats sometimes get in the way of the big turbine propellers, there are ways to prevent collisions that use reflective ribbons on guy wires to divert birds and sonar signals to alert the bats, Auberle added. Since most of the wind turbines are huge, birds see them and avoid them.

Arizona Public Service is sending a representative to the work session as well to discuss plans for wind power on a commercial scale and rooftop solar and wind generation.

REPORTER Shar Porier can be reached at 515-4692 or by e-mail at shar.porier@bisbeereview.net.

MEETING

The Cochise County Planning and Zoning Commission members meet at 4 p.m. on Wednesday in the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room in Building G at the county complex, 1415 Melody Lane, in Bisbee. The work session is the first item on the agenda.

CLIPPER WINDPOWER PROJECT STUDY

Clipper Windpower may set up six anemometers on towers 197 feet high to measure wind speed to determine if the wind speed will be adequate to produce electricity, said Mary McCann Gates, the company public relations coordinator. The study could take just six months or it could take as long as five years.

To be economically feasible, the company develops wind farms that are at least 10 megawatts in size and up. One megawatt is the equivalent of 1 million watts.

The typical size of a wind energy project in the U.S. ranges from 50 to 200 megawatts in size, which provides power for 20,000 to 80,000 average American homes. The projects involve little land use as the footprint for the turbine’s, roads and substations. Each turbine will use about a quarter to a half acre of ground, McCann Gates explained. Most land remains open so agricultural and ranching operations can continue as they receive a secondary income from the wind plant, as well as the lease payments, if applicable.

“In addition to being a clean source of power, wind energy projects can also provide economic development benefits to the area that include a substantial increase in the local tax base and the creation of high-paying jobs in construction, maintenance and operations,” she added.

— Shar Porier•Herald/Review

ON THE NET

• Cochise County: cochise.az.gov

• Arizona Corporation Commission: www.cc.state.az.us

• Clipper Windpower: www.clipperwind.com

Sierra Vista Herald

11 May 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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