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Wyoming's new day: wind power - Utah planning to promote similar electricity source

November 7, 2003View for printing

EVANSTON, Wyo. — Rising from the snow-covered sagebrush 15 miles northeast of the Utah-Wyoming border stands a forest of giant steel towers, waiting for a rendezvous with the wind.

By Dave Anderton Deseret Morning News

In two weeks, blades longer than airplane wings will sweep 365 feet into the air, generating enough electricity for roughly 45,000 homes.

Call it Wyoming's new day.

The $143 million wind park by Florida Power and Light Energy LLC covers a 45-square-mile area. The land is leased from the state of Wyoming, Bureau of Land Management and private property owners.

"All of the pre-existing uses are still able to be performed, whether it be grazing, farming operations," said Don Miller, FPL Energy project manager. "There is virtually little or no impact to those operations."

In less than four months, FPL Energy has erected 76 of the total 80 wind turbines, constructed 45 miles of new roads and completed 25 miles of trenching where 900,000 feet of underground cable has been laid to relay electricity to an on-site substation before it is picked up by the main power grid.

PPM Energy, which is owned by ScottishPower, will purchase the entire output of the generation, which will find its way to customers in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.

The Uinta County wind farm is Wyoming's largest wind project and owes its existence to Wyoming legislation that went into effect this year that grants a sales tax exemption for renewable energy.

Here, wind is in ample supply, averaging above 16 mph, according to Miller.

On Thursday, a group of Utah legislators, private-property owners and business executives toured the area to see firsthand the West's growing trend in producing electricity.

"This is obviously an amazing facility," said Rep. Bradley Last, R-St. George. "I think these kinds of things are something we as a society ought to pursue, and we as a government ought to do what we can to help promote it."

Utah, which at present has no wind farms, seems to have gotten the message.

Just this week the Utah Energy Policy Task Force recommended forwarding draft legislation for a sales and use tax exemption on renewable energy to the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee.

Sen. Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni and chairman of the task force, said the Utah bill is similar to the Wyoming legislation.

"It covers more than just wind," Blackham said. "It covers other renewables as well."

Lorin Moench, who owns a 45,000-acre ranch in Utah's Summit County, said he is glad Utah is pursuing the renewable energy bill.

"We run sheep and cattle, and we have areas that this would enhance," Moench said. "Any way we can generate income on the ranch, then we don't have to sell, and we can keep it open space."

Property owners can typically capture between $2,000 to $4,000 per wind turbine per year in royalties.

Counties can reap even bigger profits in property taxes. Last year the Foote Creek Rim wind farm in Carbon County, Wyo., generated $480,000 in annual tax revenues.

Andy Swapp, a high school teacher in Beaver County who participated in the tour, said his school district could offset its annual electrical costs of $167,000 through the generation of one turbine.

Utah's pending renewable energy bill may be the answer in attracting wind development.

"Wyoming passed that bill last year, and the only reason why those turbines are in the ground today is because of that bill," said Christine Watson, energy engineer for the Utah Energy Office. "We're not very competitive with Wyoming without that piece of legislation."

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

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