The Latigo Wind Farm, located just north of Monticello city limits, continues to be a source of controversy among some in San Juan County.
Two years ago, construction crews were working day and night to install the wind farm, a 60 MW project just north of Monticello.
The massive blades of the 27-turbine project can be viewed for miles in many directions. At night, the blinking lights on about one half of the towers make the project visible 24 hours a day.
A quick visit to the 7-Eleven in Monticello is all that is needed to find opinions on both sides.
“I really don’t mind them that much,” said Kedric Somerville, who started his day with a visit with friends at the 7-Eleven.
“They don’t look so bad,” added Somerville of the 27 massive turbines. “If you want to see a view of the mountain, you could just turn your head some or move a little.”
“The thing I don’t like about it is how all the power is shipped out,” said Tim Meehan, who works at the 7-Eleven. “We don’t get anything out of it.”
Opinion is split about whether the turbines are beautiful or an eyesore. Regardless, it is clear that the wind farm forever changed the landscape of San Juan County (or at least for 20 years).
Rob Adams, a Monticello native who directs Sustainable Property Holdings at sPower, was recently at the San Juan County Fair in Monticello, where sPower purchased three animals at the Junior livestock auction.
At the auction, Adams took a number of questions from local residents. Many asked about the viability of the wind farm.
Adams reports that the project has paid more than $2.2 million in property taxes over the past two years to San Juan County taxing entities.
Property owners in San Juan County will have a decreased property tax bill this year, and the prime reason is the wind farm.
The confusing series of events that results in a tax break is from a new law passed by the Utah state legislature.
Because of the new law, the increased value of the new wind farm is classified as a reassessment of personal property rather than as new growth.
As a result, the rates of existing properties were readjusted to keep the same overall tax revenue.
The decrease in the annual tax bill for local property owners is not insignificant. For a home with an assessed value of $150,000, the drop in property tax is more than $100 for a home in Monticello and more than $80 in Blanding.
While the lower tax rate is a “windfall” for property owners, it is frustrating for taxing entities that hoped to see the new wind farm increase the tax base of the county and help to stem the losses due to the decreasing values of oil and gas properties.
Adams reports that the Latigo Wind Farm also provides a dozen local jobs and lease payments to the property owners where the turbines are located.
In addition to the sPower positions, Hawkwatch International contracts with sPower to complete aviary studies at the wind farm. Employees of Hawkwatch, a Salt Lake City-based organization, watch for raptors during daylight hours from two towers on the wind farm property.
Turbines can be stopped if birds are in the area. Migratory seasons result in periods of time when a large number of birds may be near the turbines.
Occasionally, the turbines are not turning for a variety of reasons, including the presence of migrating birds, routine maintenance on the massive equipment, or lulls in the wind. Adams reports that the turbines can generate power at full capacity when the winds reach eight miles per hour.
Despite the occasional lulls, Adams reports, “sPower continues to be pleased with the production from its 60MW wind farm near Monticello.
“After the initial tuning process, the project is producing on par with expectation by producing more than 140 million kWh per year, or enough to power about 12,000 average sized homes in the US.
“The plant has produced about 200 million kWh since the project went commercial in the spring of 2016.”
Development of the massive wind farm, with a capital investment estimated at $125 million, was not likely to occur in the open market.
Investment tax credits, in addition to the mandated purchase of alternative-generated power sources in some areas, helped create the market that resulted in the development of the wind farm.
The project became viable when Wasatch Wind, the company that originally started the project, secured a 20-year power purchase agreement with Rocky Mountain Power, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp. The power is bundled and shipped from the wind farm to PacifiCorp customers primarily in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.
An ongoing source of frustration for all parties is the lawsuit filed against San Juan County by the Northern Monticello Alliance (NMA), a group of landowners who purchased a section of property owned by the State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) right in the middle of the wind farm.
The landowners sued San Juan County, arguing that the county did not follow its policy in providing approval for the wind farm. The Seventh District Court ruled in favor of the landowners and the county revisited the approval process. However, several years later, the issue is not yet resolved.
Most recently, the County asked sPower and the NMA to sit with a mediator to see if they could find some common ground. It is reported that the mediation was unsuccessful.
The lawsuit has been costly for San Juan County and a frustration both for the wind farm and the landowners. Some of the individual landowners have settled with sPower, while a committed core remain focused on having their day in court.
The Latigo project was eventually built after more than ten years of development and work. Additional wind farms have been proposed in San Juan County, but as of yet, there are no other projects in operation.
Adams added, “San Juan County and the City of Monticello have been great host communities. sPower is grateful and would welcome the opportunity to do more in the county in the future.”