A standing room only audience of more than 100 residents crowded into the Elm Springs City Hall Tuesday (March 31) to hear more about a proposed $100 million wind farm that could be built just west of the city limits.
Some were there to express their opposition to the proposed 80-megawatt farm that would be built on a 300-acre tract by Dragonfly Industries International, a Texas-based company. Others were there to learn more about the plans and get questions answered.
“We are all Arkansas guys. We all call the Hogs,” said Jim Lefler, Dragonfly spokesman.
That did little to appease the audience, many of whom were vocally upset about the proposal.
Jonathon Hamby, who organized opposition by forming a Facebook page called “Stop Elm Springs Wind Farm,” said he was concerned about health and safety issues. He mentioned specifically his concern whether his children might develop learning disabilities or his wife may suffer more intensely from migraine headaches.
“We don’t want to be the testing ground for new technology,” Hamby said.
The proposed farm is 300 feet from the back door of his home, noting the World Health Organization suggests the turbines in a wind farm be at least 1,500 feet, or 500 meters, from the closest homes.
Phillip Ridings of Jupiter, Fla., said wind energy dates back more than a century when farmers harnessed wind to pump underground water to the surface.
Ridings invented an enclosed turbine that resembles a jet engine, that is planned for use at the Elm Springs farm, has been developed since 2008 and is simpler, quieter and more efficient than existing turbines that dot the landscape in places such as western Oklahoma or Kansas.
Ridings said the turbine is called a redundant system with three enclosed generators that compress the air as it passes through by a 12:1 ratio. As an example wind that enters the turbine at 17 miles per hour will be accelerated to 32 miles per hour, to 37 miles per hour and to 47 miles per house as it passes through and comes out the other end to generate even more electricity. The turbines haven’t been tested in the setting for which they are proposed, he added.
There would be two turbines mounted on a 100-foot pole that could be lowered for maintenance or during storms, he said. The turbines would rotate to follow the direction of the wind.
This plan represents a shift in the wind energy field, Ridings said.
“This is the silver bullet in wind energy according to the engineers we work with,” he said.
Jody Davis, CEO of Dragonfly, spent more than an hour answering questions posed by the community, mostly residents who live around the project. The project would begin with the installation of a single unit for testing
He estimated the cost of development would be about $100 million and would create 25 to 30 jobs when the farm was operational. Construction is at least 18 months away because of all the environmental impact studies that will be required by the state and federal government.
Furthermore, the company has discussed the possibility of being annexed into Elm Springs with city officials.
Davis promised the company would send e-mail updates quarterly to anyone who requested an update, including improvements to county roads around the property.
The power generated by the farm – a maximum of 80 megawatts – possibly would be sold to American Electric Power, the parent company of SWEPCO, although discussions are ongoing, Davis said.
“Our truest desire is to be a good neighbor,” Davis said. “We’re not here to prove our technology. We’re here to discuss our plans.”