San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams’ years-long dream of using wind energy to boost the community’s economy may finally be coming to fruition. The county recently issued a conditional use permit for development of a combination wind farm and solar power project near Monticello, Adams said last week.
“When the wind isn’t blowing, we hope the sun is shining,” Adams said.
He also hopes for a significant boost in tax revenues. A study conducted by Cathy Hartman and Edwin Stafford of Utah State University found that construction of just the wind farm would generate more than $31 million “in economic output for the state.”
A 50-megawatt wind power plant would generate about $150,000 in land lease payments to county landowners, according to the study, and local property taxes would be boosted by more than $1.3 million per year, with more than $800,000 of that going to the school district, the study noted.
A nearly $3 million payroll would support 51 construction jobs, according to the study.
For comparison, the small wind farm at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon is a 19 megawatt project, while one just outside Milford is a 204 megawatt installation, with more to come, Stafford said.
“Understanding the economic opportunities posed by developing wind resources could help build market demand and community support for local wind energy development,” Hartman said. “We’re hoping that studies like this will stimulate public participation.”
She said she and Stafford focused on economic benefits and try to downplay environmental advantages, because, for example, climate change is such a hot-button issue in Utah. But Stafford did note that wind power does not use water, so there is no harm to agriculture.
At a recent conference at USU, according to Stafford, Utah Sen. Orin Hatch promoted the electrical grid as a substitute for oil. If that approach were adopted, it could mean that, in the long term, wind power, which is now used by Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company PacifiCorp, and other utility companies across the country to supplement electricity produced through fossil fuels, can be a substitute for oil, Stafford said.
Hartman noted that electric cars, plugged in at night when the demand for power is lower than in the daytime, actually provide for the storage of electricity. The public mood has shifted from a public reluctance to plug in cars for recharging, to a desire to do that, she said.
“This is why we need to start building wind farms now,” Hartman said.
A description of state efforts to facilitate wind energy development is available at geology.utah.gov/sep/wind/index.htm. The site also includes a map of wind patterns throughout the state.