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Study finds Summit County's Porcupine Ridge ideal for wind-energy development

Alternative energy » Installing tall turbines could be a boon for landowners and Summit County taxpayers.

By Steven Oberbeck

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 10/23/2009 07:58:51 PM MDT

On most days, stiff winds can be counted on to blow across Summit County's Porcupine Ridge.

They are so strong and consistent that no one should be surprised a few years from now to find wind turbines dotting the landscape, their massive blades generating 50 megawatts of electricity or more for an energy-hungry state.

And that would be only a modest development.

"It is an attractive site for wind power," said Edwin R. Stafford at Utah State University, who with Cathy L. Hartman just completed a study on Porcupine Ridge in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy.

The pair's study predicts that wind turbines there -- the ridge, northeast of Coalville, sits about five miles west of the Utah-Wyoming state line -- could generate during their construction more than $31 million in economic benefits for Summit County.

"Wind power can create attractive economic opportunities for a local community in terms of new jobs, lease payments to landowners and new property-tax revenues," said Hartman, a marketing professor at USU's Jon M. Huntsman School of Business.

The study, "An Analysis of State-Level Economic Impacts from the Development of Wind Power Plants in Summit County, Utah," found that a 50-megawatt wind power plant could produce about $150,000 a year in land-lease payments to landowners.

It also could generate more than $800,000 in local property taxes for the county, of which more than $631,000 would support
the South Summit School District, Stafford's and Hartman's study said.

The Porcupine Ridge site is one of dozens of promising sites that have been identified throughout Utah, said Jason Berry, manager of the Utah State Energy Program.

"We have the potential to generate several thousand megawatts of wind power," he said, noting though that there are challenges with many sites, such as a lack of nearby transmission lines to move the electricity onto the state's power grid.

Hartman and Stafford's economic analysis of the benefits that could flow from a Porcupine Ridge development was based in part upon wind data gathered as part of a state program that loans out anemometers -- instruments that measure and record wind speed.

The study pointed out that the industry standard for commercial wind sites is generally a minimum speed of 12 mph when measured at 20 meters above the ground. Anemometer data collected at Porcupine Ridge found the average wind speed there is about 13.75 mph and that the winds generally peak between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.

And that makes the Porcupine Ridge site even more potentially valuable since it could produce power during the daytime hours when power demand typically is at its highest.

Although wind energy provides less than 2 percent of the total electricity consumed in the country, the American Wind Energy Association indicated that its development grew 50 percent in 2008, the year that commercial wind development saw a big leap in Utah. Wasatch Wind started generating about 19 megawatts from its wind power plant at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon.

Summit County Councilwoman Sally Elliott and Park City Mayor Dana Williams were instrumental in generating interest in launching the study. Elliott said she is eager to see additional wind power established in Utah.

Still, she conceded there are a lot of obstacles that have to be overcome before such projects can be launched, including bringing together landowners, ensuring there are available transmission lines and finding someone willing to purchase the power.

"When you look over at Wyoming there are all kinds of wind-power projects," she said. "We're upwind from them, so there has to be some good sites in Utah, and it sounds like Porcupine Ridge is one of them."