Only months after Coconino County’s first major wind energy farm got up and running this winter, the utility buying its power says more wind farms here are unlikely – at least for now.
Cost is the bottom line, with the sun beating the wind on both equipment prices and time-of-day power production.
This disadvantage for wind could have some implications for a handful of other big wind projects proposed in Coconino County.
A worldwide glut of solar panels produced at lower costs (including from China) has cut solar panel prices to a fraction of their former cost.
So Arizona Public Service is likely to turn to solar in the coming years to meet a state mandate that it generate 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025. APS gets about 5 percent of its electricity from renewable sources today.
“Right now, it looks like solar – photovoltaic – is the lowest-cost resource,” said Gordon Samuel, who plans future energy supplies at APS.
Also, the wind here doesn’t produce enough power when APS and Phoenix need it most: on hot summer afternoons.
While Flagstaff is fine for solar electricity generation, Samuel said, Gila Bend and the Yuma area are even better for the big power demands of the Phoenix region, so those locations are more likely to be sites for future projects.
PERRIN RANCH THE LAST?
This all comes not long after Coconino County supervisors approved by a narrow margin in February 2011 the installation of 62 wind turbines, each about 400 feet tall, on a ranch 13 miles north of Williams. A group of neighbors argued last year during 13 hours of public meetings that the turbines at Perrin Ranch would affect the tranquility of the landscape and not generate all that much power.
It was at a supervisors meeting earlier this month that Samuel said more wind projects were not likely right now and outlined the reasons.
“It was all I could do not to jump up and down and yell ‘I told you so! I told you so!'” said Linda Webb, an outspoken opponent of Perrin Ranch. “But we were a little more restrained than that.”
There are no wind projects for Arizona outlined in a document APS put out in March to show where it might find renewable energy into future years.
The Perrin Ranch wind farm is one of the larger renewable projects APS has today. But when running at full capacity, it generates only about 10 percent of what a natural-gas-fired plant in Phoenix can produce.
Samuel said Perrin Ranch was competitive a couple of years ago when APS signed contracts with a developer, but that was before photovoltaic prices plummeted.
“The economics did look attractive,” he said.
A SURPRISE TO ALL
Coconino County was planning for more renewable energy here, and its planning and zoning commission was weighing overall guidelines on where renewable energy should or shouldn’t be located, along with avoiding risks to birds and bats.
Coconino County Supervisor Carl Taylor has been the board’s most vocal proponent of renewable energy, better-insulated homes and water conservation measures.
He and others were surprised by APS’s announcement earlier this month.
“That was quite a surprise to all of us,” he said.