Plans for an 80 megawatt wind farm proposed for a 300-acre track west of Springdale in Elm Springs are moving ahead, and a University of Arkansas assistant professor is excited to watch the progress of Arkansas’ first renewable energy plant.
But Kate Shoulders, assistant professor in agriculture education and an advocate for wind and solar as alternative energy forms, said the developer, Dragonfly Industries International of Frisco, Texas, needs to address the social concerns of the residents who live near project. That is true for any renewable energy project planned in any community, Shoulders said. Her research area has focused on the social components surrounding projects such as Arkansas One, as the Elm Springs project is called by Dragonfly officials.
“The social components are as important as the technical development,” she said. “It’s a slow process to get community support on the front end but that’s what builds transparency and trust.”
A “Stop Elm Springs Wind Farm” group has emerged to oppose the project.
Shoulders heads up a wind and solar renewable project at the University of Arkansas farms, as a demonstration for individual use by farmers who only want to use the energy they produce in their own operations. These turbines are on a smaller scale, about 40 watts, mounted on a pole about 15 feet off the ground. So far, that demonstration is showing that solar power is more economically efficient in that application, she said.
“I love renewable energy,” Shoulders said, adding that there is enough wind in Arkansas to support the wind farm as proposed in Elm Springs. “It depends on how high you go because the higher you go with the turbines, the more wind.”
She did not attend last week’s town hall meeting at the Elm Springs City Hall at which more than 100 residents crowded into the city council meeting room, many of whom to protest the development or ask questions about health and safety issues. She read or watched media reports about the meeting, prompting her comments on the importance of gaining support from the community.
Word of the development began spreading through the town last December after Dragonfly officials met with Mayor Harold Douthit. Douthit said the Dragonfly team told him at the time the company was planning to purchase the property for a wind farm and would want the property annexed into the city. Douthit said he told the company the city would consider annexing the property. Douthit said Wednesday (April 8) he has not received a formal request but he anticipates receiving one soon, possibly before that next council meeting on April 20.
Meanwhile, Dragonfly continues its plans to construct a $100 million, 80-megawatt wind farm on the property, according to Jim Lefler, Dragonfly spokesman.
“We thought the meeting on March 31 was very successful,” Lefler said. “We received 30-50 positive emails afterwards thanking us for the information.”
Company officials asked residents at that meeting to sign up for a newsletter to keep them informed about the project. Lefler said the first issue of the newsletter would go out next week.
“We are focusing on the technical side of our build out, right now,” he said. “We’re not actively pursuing anything with the city right now.”
The project involves a series of enclosed turbines, two each on 100-foot poles. The inventor, Phillip Ridings of Jupiter, Fla., called it 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 a working wind farm, Ridings said at the community meeting.
The turbines resemble jet engines mounted on a pole but Ridings insisted the turbine is simpler, quieter and more efficient than the more traditional wind turbines in areas like western Kansas and Oklahoma.
As for the concerns of Elm Springs residents, Shoulders said people can find documentation on the Internet to support any position they want to take on a proposal, including wind energy or wind farms. There is evidence in entries found through Google searches that support the notion that living next to a wind farm causes depression, sleep deprivation and other health issues, she noted.
“But if you look further, you will find a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that says there are no detrimental health effects,” she noted.
“This technology could be ground breaking,” she said. “It could be fantastic but you have to have the people on board.”
“I hope one day Arkansas is a leader in renewable energy,” she said.
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