Yampa Ranger District installs wind turbine

— When the wind blows in Yampa next year, the local office of the U.S. Forest Service will enjoy the generation of green power without having to worry about injuring songbirds and raptors.

The Yampa Ranger District of the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest and the Yampa community have embarked on a trial program to learn how wind-generated power can work in harmony with the natural environment of the Rocky Mountains. Folks in Yampa soon will see a new kind of wind power generator on the grounds of the Forest Service building.

"My staff is very green-conscious," Yampa District Ranger Oscar Martinez said. "And, as an agency, we need to be leaders. Thinking globally and acting locally - it's something we all have a share in. Otherwise, we're talking hypothetically."

Martinez said that within weeks, his agency's building will be powered by an unfamiliar style of wind turbine. He's optimistic the new energy source will be sufficient to provide for the Yampa Ranger District's electricity needs with a little left over to sell back to the grid.

Staff members expect to be pleased. They insisted on going without air conditioning last summer and instigated the installation of motion detectors that turn lights on and off, Martinez said.

The new turbine will eschew the familiar giant propeller blades most often seen in photographs of wind farms. Instead, the new GUS wind power plant at the Yampa Ranger District will resemble a 50-foot-tall barrel. Look a little closer, and you'll notice the dark green turbine actually is formed of twin spirals, or a double helix of scooped-out turbines.

The double helix is the same shape biologists and geneticists use to represent the double strand of human DNA. In this case, it allows communities to locate wind power generators in sensitive areas.

The GUS power plant made by Tangarie Alternative Power makes less of a visual impact in the heart of a small town, Martinez said. Significantly, it's touted as posing far less danger to birds and even bats, which are better able to echolocate on the drum shape of the GUS than they are on spinning blades.

The Yampa Ranger District had to submit the equivalent of a grant proposal and compete with ranger districts nationally to bring the $30,000 project to the South Routt town. The cost is being shared under a partnership between the Forest Service and Tangarie.

Martinez believes the commitment his staff has shown, and the speed with which they put their proposal together, helped them land the turbine.

"There are windier places than Yampa, and we're at high elevation," he said. Low air density means the turbine will be less efficient than it would be at lower elevation. However, it's rated to generate electricity at wind speeds of 4.5 miles per hour and should generate some power at even lower wind speeds.

The Forest Service has had to take the needs of the community into account as well as the needs of the local flora and fauna. It was important to consult with town leaders, especially since the project is meant to be educational, Martinez said.

"The height, 50 feet, seems like a really tall structure," Martinez said. "Some people were worried about it. But now that the pole (that will support the turbine) is in, you can't see it from three blocks away."

Routt National Forest spokeswoman Diann Ritschard said that by placing the turbine close to the office, wildlife biologists will be able to observe firsthand how birds and bats react to the turbine. The small community of Yampa also will get to learn firsthand about alternative forms of energy.

"This community involvement and monitoring would be less achievable if the turbine was in a remote area of the National Forest," Ritschard said. "The project is also an educational effort, demonstrating that a wind turbine in neighborhoods is acceptable and that if communities want to 'go green,' they must also be willing to accept some changes to their neighborhoods."

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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