“Sometimes the wind blows 24 hours a day,” says Dennis Maroney, owner of the 47 Ranch in the Mule Mountains.
That sustained wind has a California company interested in setting up two testing sites on Maroney’s ranch to see if it’s suitable for a wind farm. If built, it would be the first in Southern Arizona.
“As I understand it, the towers would be 430 feet tall,” says Maroney.
And there would be 40 of them at the base of the Mule Mountains, visible throughout the Sulfur Springs Valley which sits between the Mules and Chihuahuas.
That has Maroney conflicted.
He’s been a rancher, teacher, environmentalist and steward of the land since he was a teenager. He knows the value of sustainable resources like the wind.
“Oh yeah, it works. Every rancher throughout the west will tell you that wind is a reliable source to get work done,” he says.
But Maroney also knows the value of the viewscape. It was the beauty of the land which first drew him to the Mules and the tall towers would certainly change things.
“It is something that will take some getting used he,” he adds.
The company, Clipper Windpower, wants to set up two test sites to see if the wind is strong enough, long enough.
But even the testing has people lining up to oppose the idea. Even Maroney is not to sure.
“Everyone of these decisions that we have to make about a sustainable future involves internal debate, some sort of public discussion process and some sore of balance between benefits and costs,” he says.
Sorting out the benefits versus costs will be the Cochise County Supervisors, including District Two Supervisor Paul Newman.
“It’s very difficult because I’m an environmentalist,” says Newman.
His biggest concern is the bird migratory patterns which might be interrupted because of the tall towers.
“I would never make a decision without understanding that for this area,” he adds.
But he also lives in the Mules and the view is important to him and his constituents. For that reason he says, he will keep an open mind.
“I understand the opposition to people not wanting to ruin the viewscape. That’s what makes this such a difficult decision,” he says.
But on the other hand, he says, there’s a higher calling.
“I think we owe it to the global world and higher principal to do the tests but if there’s so much opposition we can’t do the test, so be it,” he says.
For Maroney, it’s not just the environment that needs to be protected. Even though he says he likes the idea of wind energy, he also needs to make a living. He says he’s operating on a 2% profit margin and one bad year can take two years to recover. The money he makes from leasing to the wind company may also ease his mind.
“We’re an independent people. We don’t have pensions or a retirement program. This would be very helpful from that standpoint and passing along the ranch to the kids and help them make a living. That’s attractive. I have to admit that,” he says.
By Bud Foster
21 May 2008
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