by Bill Boyle
Three separate companies have received a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for wind farms in the Monticello area. Two are in the TARB area northeast of town and the third is near city limits northwest of Monticello.
It may be a race against the clock as a federal program that provides tax credits for wind energy projects is set to expire on December 31, 2012. Congress is working on legislation that would extend the credits for another year, but a number of factors may decrease the likelihood of an extension.
These factors include the potential of massive cuts in federal spending due to sequestration. These cuts are currently set to be implemented on January 1, 2013.
In addition, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has voiced serious concerns about the federal programs that support the development of alternate energy resources, including wind energy. The progress of the legislation is likely to be influenced by the outcome of the November 6 election.
The growth in the development of wind farms has been closely tied to the federal tax credits, which have been in place a number of times over the past 18 years.
In fact, the number of wind farms that were developed plummeted during the prior years when federal tax credits temporarily expired. In 1999, 2001, and 2003, when the credits expired before being renewed the following year, the number of wind farm installations fell to almost zero.
The wind farm projects may not be able secure their funding. One year ago, a similar project in the TARB area received a CUP. However, the project was unable to secure financing and ended up declaring bankruptcy on December 31, 2011. One of the current TARB projects is based upon the 2011 project.
While few will argue with the speed and consistency of the wind in Monticello, the “thickness” of the wind is another problem altogether. Simply put, the atmosphere at 7,000 feet altitude is significantly thinner than at sea level, reducing the ability of the wind to move the massive turbines in a wind farm.
Some argue that this issue makes the Monticello area wind farms of marginal financial value. Without the federal tax credits, some observers who know the industry state that it is unlikely that the projects could move forward.
One major challenge facing the Wasatch Wind project nearest to Monticello is the property rights of the owners of an 80-acre parcel of ground right in the middle of the proposed project. While leases have been secured by Wasatch Wind for all of the surrounding properties, the nine property owners in the “inholding parcels” still hold out.
A Wasatch Wind spokesperson said, “We’ve been in contact with the owners of the inholding parcels for several months to address their concerns. As discussed at the hearing, we engaged an appraiser and we submitted an offer to purchase their land.”
Another challenge is the impact of the project on surrounding property owners and Monticello itself. Wasatch Wind has made attempts to accommodate the landowners and is working to develop an accurate model so area residents can see what the towers will look like from a distance.
The towers may be nearly 500 feet tall and will be visible for many miles.
Several of the proposed Wasatch Wind towers have been relocated to stay at least one kilometer (.6 mile) from any existing home or business. In addition, the location of the towers have been adjusted to minimize the impact of the “flicker” caused by the shadow of a turbine.
The multi-million dollar costs of developing a wind farm could have a significant economic impact on San Juan County. It is estimated that the Wasatch Wind project alone would result in the creation of up to 100 construction jobs, work for local subcontractors and a benefit to area motels and restaurants during the construction phase. Once the construction is complete, the project would create four full time jobs.
Lease payments to property owners would exceed $4.3 million and property tax revenues would be an estimated $10 million over the 20-year life of the project.