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Wind Power in Utah Part I

By Ross Chambless

Salt Lake City, UT –

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Wind Power in Utah, Part 1: Host:
Wind-powered energy is the world's fastest-growing source of electric power. And the West is now in the midst of a wind-energy boom. From the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon, to the high plains of Colorado, wind-energy farms are springing-up. Energy developers are scouting the West, looking for the windiest areas to develop. In part one of a two-part story, KUER's Ross Chambless reports on what this Wind energy boom means for Utah.

Sounds of brew pub beer pouring into glass

When folks at this Salt Lake City bar gulp down a glass of frosty, cold Unita Cutthroat, few would guess how it got there. Wind power Or specifically wind from Wyoming. Uinta Brewing Company is among thousands of utility customers in Utah paying a little extra for wind-generated electricity from Utah Power. Uinta Brewing president Will Hamill says while they're paying 30 to 40 percent more on monthly electric bills, it's a clean alternative to burning coal or natural gas for electricity.

0:16: Uinta's always believed in brewing World Class beers, but we've tried to do that at the same time as being environmentally sensitive.

A host of other organizations like Kinkos, the First Unitarian Church, and the City of Salt Lake are also now partially powered by wind. Wind power is available now, because it's economical. The cost of wind has decreased 80 percent in the past 20 years, making it the cheapest renewable energy available comparable even to coal in some areas outside Utah. Wind-energy costs range between 3 and 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to the standard 2 to 5 cents for coal or natural gas.

Sounds of wind, early morning

Wind however brings with it significant up-front costs, like building the towers to capture its energy and connecting them to power grids. But advocates say in the long-run, energy developers, utilities, and even local communities, through tax benefits, all stand to profit. Once turbines are up and running, they say, wind has minimal maintenance costs.

6:15: Along the Wasatch Front we have what's called drainage flows.

Here at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon, Dean Davis is measuring Utahs's wind. Davis co-manages Windward Engineering, a consultant company that contracts with energy developers for testing the wind.

And essentially what's happening, if you've ever gone into the mountains, as the sun sets (fade)

Davis explains how the air cools after sunset. This cooler air becomes heavy and drops - moving, over, around and through mountains, valleys, and other landforms. Air that drops onto higher-elevation areas, like the Colorado Plateau, gets funneled through side canyons of the Wasatch Mountains, like Parley's, Provo and Weber Canyons.

It may take a while for everything to get going, it blows strong all night long, then as the sun rises, and everything heats-up, it'll just shut down. It's amazing, it feels sometimes like someone's just up there with a faucet, just turn it off. It's blowing down here, 10, maybe 20 miles an hour. And after about 10 minutes, it's just calm.

So, says Davis, Utah's wind can be predictable enough to use for electricity. It's just a matter of knowing where, how fast, and how long it will blow.

Sound of wind and his testing site, buzzing wind turbines

Three pin-wheel like towers, the wind turbines, fill up the acre of land surrounding Davis's office, a small mobile trailer parked along State Highway 6.

Track 6: With each one of these we have what we call an anemometer tower, that's essentially, you need to be away from the turbine, because it, actually slows the wind, it's extracting kinetic energy from the wind, so the winds are slowing around the rotor

Davis' current client, Renewable Energy Systems, is based in Great Britain. In fact, several out-of-state energy companies have come to Utah prospecting.

Track 1: 9:20: I kind of liken it to the Gold Rush

Sarah Wright, manages the Utah Wind Power Campaign, which educates people about the advantages of wind energy.

They're prospecting for wind. They're coming in, they're measuring wind, they're talking to landowners, and they're trying to, where they find the good sites, get landowners to sign land-lease agreements.

If you look closely, anemometers, towering-devises that measure wind speeds, are dug-in along the Stockton Bar in Tooele County. They're also going-up in the hills beyond St. George, and the desert plains around Milford and Cedar City. So will all this prospecting lead to a boost for Utah's rural economics?

(disc 2: track 1): 1:40: Utah is definitely not the Saudi Arabia of Wind power, like North Dakota is, or Wyoming.

Christine Watson is an energy engineer with the Utah Energy Office.

If you were to rank us in the order of best resources, we are 26. 24 and 25 are Washington and Oregon,

but Watson says those two States are building a 300 megawatt wind farm along their borders

And that's the largest wind farm in the world There are about 1,000 megawatts that can be built in Utah with today's technology. in the future, Utah could potentially use 20 percent wind power total.

But for Utah to reach that goal will require action on the part of State lawmakers. This Winter they'll consider a bill that would mandate utilities, like Utah Power, to be 4 percent renewable by 2004, 7 percent by 2007, and 10 percent by 2010. Utilities would get credits towards those goals by investing in geothermal, biomass, wind, or solar energy projects. Several States including Texas and Nevada have already set similar goals, called a Renewable Portfolio Standard But Christine Watson says utilities here worry the bill is too aggressive.

5:40: People just get used to doing what they're doing. And it's hard to change. And so when you deal with coal and natural gas, it's just flipping on a switch, and you know when it's going to run, and it works. But for wind, it's an intermittent, so there's some resistance by utility operators on how to fit that into a system, so there's that barrier.

Watson says the bill may also face political barriers. During the Western Governor's Conference earlier this year, Governor Mike Leavitt skirted a question put to him on a renewable mandate.

Roll sound question from Katherine Phillips Governor Leavitt, I'm wondering if Utah will be passing a renewable portfolio standard with your support - regarding the 20 percent renewables goal what are you doing to advance that?'

(Governor Leavitt) We have articulated an energy policy, that includes targets for our-self as a State clearly renewables will be part of that (fade sound)

Leavitt's office says the Governor has supported renewable development in the past, he won't offer specific comments until the bill is finalized. But on environmental regulation in general, Governor Leavitt offers this:

The principal is markets before mandates. It doesn't say you never use a mandate. It says if you have a choice in an effective market solution, and compulsion by the national government, ultimately markets are more effective.

Track 2: 3:00: A lot of people say markets before mandates

Utah Wind Power Campaign coordinator, Sarah Wright.

But we forget the utilities and our electricity is not really a free market system. And so free markets don't necessarily work.

Utah Power is 10 times larger than the State's 4 biggest city-owned utilities including Provo, St. George, Logan, and Murray City utilities. And aside from areas operated by rural utilities, Utah Power owns most of the State's power lines. Moreover, Christine Watson argues that Renewable Portfolio Standards, or RPS's, bring down the price of wind power.

7:40: What happened in Texas when they passed their RPS, actually under President Bush, they were afraid it was going to be expensive, but it brought so many developers there that it drove down the price of wind. So ultimately, if you have an RPS, you'll see the price of wind go down

And that means more Utahns may choose to have their electricity generated by the wind. Customers opting for wind power would pay a few pennies, to 70 cents more for 700 kilowatts, the average Utah household usage. But Christine Watson says those costs would eventually drop again.

9:35: If it's one cent, one penny per month, I don't think people will argue with that, and people will realize it helps our air-quality, and it improves the tax base for local communities, meaning there's more money for schools and roads in rural Utah, I think people will be supportive of it.

For KUER News, I'm Ross Chambless

Host Tag:
Tomorrow, hear about Utah Power's 2-year-old Green Pricing' program, Blue Sky, which gives Utahns the option to buy wind power. That's part 2, of the 2-part series, Wind Power in Utah Tomorrow on Morning Edition.'

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