The Energy Blend: Is Craig a good candidate for wind farms?
Have you ever walked outside on one of the many windy days and wondered why Craig doesn’t have a site for wind energy production?
Driving through other parts of Colorado, one may look over to see hundreds of towering wind turbines in rows lining the road with their massive blades spinning in the breeze. Seeing wind farms in other parts of the state may provoke the question for many local residents, “Could a wind farm be built in Craig?”
The U.S. Energy Information Association reports that wind energy provided 4.7 percent of the 4 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity generated in the United States in 2015. In 2014, Colorado was the country’s 10th largest wind-producing state.
“In 2015, Colorado ranked fifth in the nation for wind power capacity additions. An investment in the wind power industry and in wind projects generates new jobs, economic development in rural counties and clean air benefits to all Coloradans,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper during a 2015 wind energy report released at a Vestas wind turbine component factory near Denver.
There are, however, specific guidelines to choosing wind energy facilities.
First, American Wind Energy Association said that turbines need to be located in an area where wind blows at least 11 miles per hour on average. A wind speed map from the National Renewable Energy Lab in Denver shows that Craig’s wind speed is around 5 or 5.5 meters per second, which converts to around 11 or 12 mph on average.
Senior Engineer for National Wind Technology Center at NREL in Denver, Robi Robichaud, explained that although Craig technically has adequate wind speed for wind energy production, according to AWEA’s standard, the city isn’t particularly windy in comparison to areas east of the Rocky Mountains where wind farms have more success because the wind blows down to the Great Plains level.
“Wind speed alone does not determine if a site is a ‘good wind site’ or not,” Robichaud said, “It is one of a number of variables that all weigh into the equation of a potential project — whether it’s a large 200-megawatt wind farm, a 250-kilowatt dedicated to meeting the load of a handful of municipal buildings or a 10-kilowatt turbine for powering an off-grid home. Every project has different values associated with those project variables, but if enough are positive and someone can either make money at it or meet other important project goals — such as obtaining 50 percent of electricity from renewable resources — then they usually try to move forward.”
In terms of renewable resources, electricity in Craig would be cheaper through hydro-power, he added.
“You have to compare your renewable resources to see which would be the more economical option,” Robichaud said. “But if Craig simply wanted to become more “green,” it wouldn’t hurt to investigate further into what it would take to build a couple of residential or community turbines there.”
Land rights and permits come into play as part of those variables Robichaud mentioned. AWEA said that developers must secure adequate land rights from private owners or public agencies, meaning that lease agreements come into play in the process. Developers must also secure permits from all levels of government.
To keep down costs, wind turbines should be located in an area where there is access to adequate and available transmission capacity and proximity to existing lines, according to AWEA.
Developers must secure a utility or other entity to purchase the power generated from the wind turbines and, in order to build and operate it, they also need an investor, said AWEA.
There are also environmental, health and safety concerns with the siting of wind energy facilities. Some of these concerns are the noise from wind turbines and their construction; environmental effects of wind energy on birds, bats and other wildlife; impacts of turbine construction on local water quality; ice throw in cold climates, which takes place when built-up ice is thrown from a turbine blade; dangers to aviation and several other issues, said the 2015 Environmental, Health and Safety Guidelines for Wind Energy by the World Bank Group.
There are regulations in place by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address and minimize these concerns. The FWS enforces, as part of the U.S. Department of Interior, several laws that are relevant to wind energy development and its effects on wildlife, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. These statutes apply to development on public and private lands, said AWEA.
Although there are many requirements to be met for wind power siting, as well as variables to be reviewed and concerns to take into consideration, there are incentives.
The U.S. Department of Energy said that its Wind Power Program works to accelerate the deployment of wind power. A few incentives that the program offers for wind power are tax credits, loan guarantees, grants, education and technical resources for development on tribal lands, and bonds that allow qualified state, tribal and local government issuers to borrow money at attractive rates to fund programs for wind power facilities.
The answer to the question, “Could a wind farm be built in Craig?” is maybe, but it doesn’t seem likely.
“When Tri-State receives proposed wind projects, they are usually for the Eastern Plains region. For renewable resource projects to be competitively priced, you need good resources. The wind on the plains is generally the best for producing wind energy,” said Lee Boughey, senior manager of communications and public affairs at Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, in reference to the possibility of wind energy in Craig.
While it’s a possibility, there are a number of variables that would have to be taken into consideration first. The fact that it isn’t the most economical renewable energy option for this area makes the future of wind energy in Craig seem bleak.
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