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Experts discuss factors involved in bringing wind energy to Cochise County  

The Cochise County Planning and Zoning Commission knows a bit more about wind turbines and wind power.

At a work session held last night prior to the regular meeting, three experts in renewable energies and wind power gave a brief presentation on the aspects, feasibility and economics of developing a wind farm and transmitting energy through transmission lines.

Planning Manager Susana Montana said the work session was held for future wind energy development. Though she did not specify the name of the company, which is known to be Clipper Windpower, she did say that there was a proposal for anemometers to test the feasibility of a wind farm in the county near the Mule Mountains. She emphasized that there had been no application papers filed.

Montana played an excerpt about windpower facilities from a Discovery Channel episode on renewable energy.

Adam Stafford, policy advisor for William Mundell, member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, William Auberle, research director and professor at Northern Arizona university; and Toni Bouchard, Arizona Public Service Company renewable energy advisor; all offered information to the commissioners about their particular area in the field.

Stafford told the commissioners about the recent move by the ACC to adopt renewable energy standards, which require power providers to generate 15 percent of the power with renewables by 2025. The standards deal not only with power companies, but also with rooftops of homes, businesses and governments. Part of the solution to wean the state off of fossil fuels will be up to homeowners, developers, architects, governments and businesses by installing solar panels or wind turbines to provide energy to the grid. By 2009, the ACC has set a goal of 7.5 percent of renewable energy from residential projects. Power companies are expected to set surcharges on electricity generated from renewable energy since it costs more to produce. However, those participating in such a program by installing solar or wind or both could see a rate reduction if electricity produced is less than what is used.

“In the last few years, Arizona utility customers have seen several rate increases for electricity. Most of these increases have been driven by the rising cost of natural gas … As the price of natural gas continues to climb, renewable power becomes more competitive,” Stafford said. “As the costs of fossil fuels continue to rise, power generated through wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and even landfill gas becomes more competitive.”

Bouchard explained that APS is currently buying into wind power via a wind farm in New Mexico which in the long run is a good deal for the customers.

“APS is proud to be a leader in renewable energy alternatives. We expect our energy needs to double in 20 years. Renewable energy helps us plan for that growth. And it’s important to diversify our generating possibilities. Fuel costs are rising and the technology for these alternate sources of energy is coming down, making it more feasible economically,” she said. “Investing in renewable energy is the most cost effective way for APS to provide power.”

APS also will be offering incentives for its customers to add to solar or wind generated power, she added.

Perhaps the most informative was Auberle, the man who headed the wind studies done for four prospective counties in the state that included Cochise. That study showed that only 2.2 percent of the county land was suitable for a wind plant and that plant would probably not be able to support more than a 60 MW (megawatt ) plant at that, based on data over the past 30 years from the National Weather Service and the restrictions on where wind farms can be placed. The most viable places for wind turbine placement in the county are in the Class 3 range, not good enough for a large plant.

“Class 3 wind is viable for a smaller plant,” Auberle said. “But, the wind needs to be constant. Gusty winds are not as desirable.”

These days most wind turbines are 1.5 MW, so a 60 MW plant would require 40 turbines, he told the commissioners. The towers could be about 180 feet tall at the hub. Add in the 100-foot blades and the height overall hits around 200 feet. Each turbine would cost around $2.5 to $3 million dollars each and needs 40 acres to be sited correctly. There also are smaller turbines which could be used that require less space and are not as tall and the blades are not as long.

A wind study done with anemometers, which determine the frequency and velocity of wind, would take around three years to accumulate enough data. All the ecological studies, including bird migration and bat populations, would be performed at the same time. Then if it is proven to be feasible, the work could begin, he explained.

There are many restrictions on where wind turbines can be placed, he added. None can go along freeways or major highways, since that might distract drivers and create traffic hazards. There also is a set back requirement of 1,000 feet from any residence, so none can go up in residential areas. Another restriction can be the migratory flyways of birds when proven or if an archeological site is discovered. And they cannot be built where there are no roads on federal or state land. That’s the reason Cochise County only has 2.2 percent viable land.

As far as the noise from the turbines, that can be expected to be about as loud as a refrigerator at a distance of 750 feet.

But, if a 60 MW wind farm were to be constructed, it would not need approval from the ACC, only the county. Stafford said that only plants of 100 MW or more would have to be approved by the ACC.

By Shar Porier
Herald/Review

svherald.com

15 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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