The Navajo Nation likely will get its first wind farm as the result of a deal announced Thursday to sell power to Salt River Project from a project to be built near Seligman.
The project would be built 80 miles west of Flagstaff at the Boquillas Ranch, a checkerboard of land owned by the Navajo Nation and Arizona State Land Department that is not connected to the Navajo Reservation, which sprawls through northeastern Arizona and into New Mexico and Utah.
The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority would jointly finance and be the majority owner of the estimated $200 million power plant in a partnership with Edison Mission Energy, a subsidiary of Edison International in California. Edison also owns the Southern California Edison utility.
The project is forecast to be completed by 2013.
The wind farm is expected to have a capacity of 85 megawatts, which is enough electricity to meet the power demand in about 21,250 homes at once while the wind is blowing.
The Navajo Nation, which occupies the largest Native American reservation in the U.S., has seen several proposals for wind farms in the past three years, but none has yet come to fruition.
The SRP deal would make the proposed Boquillas Wind Project much more likely to be developed.
“Having something like what SRP has done with a power-purchase agreement is really when a project is in its advanced stages,” said Terry Battiest, a renewable-energy specialist for the tribal utility authority.
“There were a number of developers attempting to develop in a number of different locations on the reservation,” Battiest said.
“I think they are viable, and we are working on a small number of projects, but they are very much in the development state.”
One of the most likely places on the reservation to see another wind farm is at Gray Mountain north of Flagstaff, he said.
Three years ago, Citizens Energy Corp. of Boston, chaired by Joseph Kennedy II, former congressman and son of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, proposed investing in that project, but Battiest said the company no longer is involved.
Other projects have been proposed on the reservation near Cameron and Kayenta.
The Navajo Nation owns about 250,000 acres in the Boquillas Ranch area, and the wind project would occupy a fraction of that, leaving room for expansions, Battiest said.
The Land Department would get lease payments for the wind turbines placed on its land.
SRP still is negotiating the contract with the tribe and Edison, but utility officials said they were close enough to a deal to feel confident the project will proceed and that the utility will get a competitive price for the electricity, said Dan Brickley, manager of resource acquisition and analysis.
The wind farm is expected to operate at a higher efficiency than the Dry Lake Wind Power Project near Snowflake, which supplies SRP with a maximum capacity of about 120 megawatts.
SRP also has plans to purchase power from a 99-megawatt wind farm planned south of Seligman in Yavapai County.
Other wind farms under way in Arizona include a Kingman project to serve UniSource Energy Corp. and another near Williams to serve Arizona Public Service Co.
“Edison Mission characterizes (the Boquillas project) as one of the better wind resources in the state,” Brickley said.
The Boquillas project would use existing transmission lines in the area that deliver power from Colorado River dams to the Phoenix area, he said.
SRP is expected to sign a 25-year agreement for the power.
The project would require 300 people or more to construct and eight to 10 to operate once built.
Battiest said he is hopeful that the project will offer badly needed jobs to the tribe.
“That is one of the things NTUA is charged with, to provide employment,” he said.