Is the answer blowing in the wind?
by Rob Adams
John Riis, the first Manti La Sal forest ranger in the area, said of the wind in Monticello:
“Always the wind blows in Monticello; round and round the mountain like a rollicking dog chasing its tail. Playing an endless tune on the single telephone wire strung along the main street and slapping the loose tin roofs with a noisy gusto.
“‘Does the wind always blow this way?’ I asked a lanky rider who stopped long enough to to exchange the courtesies of the road.
“‘No, Stranger,’ he drawled; ‘sometimes p’raps once or twice a year, she turns around and blows the other way.’”
My own father, while living in Blanding, was in Monticello on business on a cold windy day back in the late 1940s. He stepped out of the car for a few minutes and was nearly freeze dried by the cold and wind.
When he returned to the car, he announced to my mother that under no condition would he ever in his life consider moving to such a miserable, cold, windy place. A few months later they became Monticello residents.
I am glad I have lived long enough to see the day when the hot sun and the miserable wind are considered assets worthy of praise.
In 2008, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman commissioned the Utah Renewable Energy Zones (UREZ) task force to lay the groundwork for the development of renewable energy generation within the state.
UREZ divided its work into two phases. Phase 1 to identify the zones within the state where renewable energy generation is possible and Phase 2 to identify corridors over which to construct power lines to connect renewable sources to the broader power grid.
The task force was made up of experts on wind, solar and geothermal resources and completed Phase 1 in the Fall of 2008. Phase 2 of the task force’s work is now underway.
The highest concentration of renewable resources converge in central Beaver County, north of the small community of Milford. This is due to the presence of all three major renewable resources within 25 miles.
Currently, First Wind, a Boston company is constructing a 203.5 megawatt wind generation farm that should go online sometime this Fall.
Within the past year Raser Technologies, Inc. has employed new geothermal technology at the Thermo geothermal field in southern Beaver County.
Rocky Mountain Power has recently expanded capacity from 24 to 35 megawatts at its Blundell plant northwest of Milford and is contemplating further expansion.
On the other side of the mountain at Cove Fort, ENEL North America is in the final stages of preplanning for new plant construction at the Sulphurdale field sometime in 2010. Within a short period of time, there could be as much as 300 megawatts generated in Beaver County from geothermal. Solar is the last piece to complete Beaver County’s renewable energy portfolio.
Renewable power generation is the greatest opportunity for economic development in rural areas to come along in some years. Utility scale generation typically requires large tracts of land with few competing uses. That said, with wind and some solar technologies historic uses such as livestock grazing may continue virtually unimpeded.
The best locations for generation are characterized first by the presence of either wind or solar resources, the proximity of power transmission lines and in most cases level ground. In the case of solar, higher elevations are generally better than lower elevations.
The UREZ task force identified areas for generation from renewable sources in San Juan County, particularly north and east of Monticello.
One of the largest favorable contiguous wind areas stretches from Highway 191 to the Colorado border. The area also has excellent solar resources.
In addition to the Monticello area, outstanding solar opportunities exist south and east of Blanding. Some of the best solar resources in the state are near Aneth and Montezuma Creek. The UREZ report mapped solar resources using a measure known as Direct Normal Irradiance or DNI.
This measure indicates the amount of electricity that could be expected from a photo voltaic solar park per unit of area.
The UREZ report catalogued the area north and east of Monticello as more than adequate for a successful solar project.
Solar projects have been more difficult to develop due to the fact that efficient solar technology has lagged wind and geothermal. The worldwide interest in renewable development sparked unprecedented research in the cost and efficiency of solar generation.
A never-ending challenge to renewable development is inadequate transmission capacity to areas where renewable energy may be developed.
To fill this gap, the Utah legislature passed Senate Bill 76 in the 2009 legislative session. This is the first step in promoting and financing the construction of transmission assets in areas needed for renewable development. Additional legislation is in the planning stages to further advance the construction of transmission lines.
The placement of solar and wind generation resources can provide a significant source of income to landowners. If you believe you may own land in an area of high solar radiation and are interested in knowing the potential for wind or solar development call Rob Adams at (435) 421-9022.
(Rob Adams, a native of San Juan County, is the economic development director in Beaver County.)