Electricity » With the wind-corridor project, the county is fast becoming a convergence point for firms wanting to harness geothermal wells and wind.
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Milford -- A steady stream of semis hitched to oversized flatbed trailers are rolling through Beaver and Milford these days, hauling 80-foot-long blades to a project site where, once attached to turbine towers, they'll spin like giant pinwheels above the desert floor.
The turbines will turn energy from the wind into electricity to help meet a growing demand in Southern California.
The project is the state's largest wind corridor project to date and will be located about 10 miles northeast of Milford in Beaver County, which is fast becoming a convergence point for companies wanting to harness renewable forms of energy like geothermal wells or the persistent wind.
"There's a lot going on out there," said Jason Berry, the renewable energy coordinator with Utah Geological Survey. "There's a lot of leased land for geothermal development and a lot of prospecting [for wind and hot water] by companies interested in the state."
In addition to the wind project, Beaver County's renewable energy potential is illustrated by Utah's Rasar Technologies Inc., which will soon begin using underground steam to generate 14 megawatts of power at a new $50 million plant.
In addition, Rocky Mountain Power has a nearby geothermal plant producing 34 megawatts at its Blundell Plant and an Italian energy company will consider building a new geothermal plant in Sulphurdale in northern Beaver County, where an old geothermal venture now sits idle.
Barry said Escalante Valley, which travels north to south in western Beaver and Iron counties in southwestern Utah, has multiple resources for geothermal and wind development as well as large-scale solar potential that's earning attention.
Ray A. Brady, who heads the BLM's energy policy team in Washington, D.C., said his agency sees potential for solar, wind and geothermal resources in the West.
To help facilitate the permitting process for developments on BLM land, the federal government created the Programatic Environmental Impact Program that streamlines the approval process for wind turbine projects like Beaver County's.
"We could see a 10-fold increase in [wind projects] through the Programatic EIS," Brady said.
Berry said he is putting the finishing touches on a report compiled by the 20-member Utah Renewable Zone Task Force that inventories all the state's renewable resources and where potential power supplies exist.
"We are looking at utility-scale wind, solar and geothermal [resources] for the report and found large concentrations in the state," Berry said.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. formed the task force to locate and promote alternative energy sources in Utah.
Huntsman has also adopted the Western Governors Association's goal of developing 30,000 megawatts of clean energy by 2015 from traditional and renewable sources and wants 20 percent of Utah's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025.
Beaver County Economic Development Director Rob Adams said the inventory report makes his rural community look like the "convergent point for renewable projects."
"We want to be the renewable capital of Utah," said Adams, adding the county has the required vast tracks of open land needed for projects like wind farms or solar arrays.
"They are like dream projects for rural Utah," Adams said.
Renewable energy developments also bring revenue to the county of roughly 6,500 residents.
Adams estimates the wind corridor could add about $1 million of assessed value to county coffers every year.
The initial influx of construction workers to build the wind project aids the economy even though the workforce will eventually shrink to a handful of well-paid maintenance workers, Adams said.
Beaver County would also be the ideal place for a renewable energy center that would offer training and education in the renewable energy field.
Dana Miller, president of Southwest Applied Technology College in Cedar City, is part of an informal committee that has looked into such a center.
"Beaver County would be the right place," he said.
In addition to increased awareness of conservation and renewable energy, the center could offer career choices in engineering, constructing and maintaining projects involving alternative energy resources, Miller said.
Funding is the key for any such project, which so far has received a cool reception from state officials.
"We had to test the willingness of the state to put some legs under the [proposal]," Miller said. "You need the state's help to get traction to a program like the center. The time is just not right."
But it is for First Wind, the Massachusetts company building the $400 million wind corridor.
The project's first phase involves 97 wind turbines capable of generating 300 megawatts of electricity for San Diego-area clients eager for reliable sources of renewable energy. California law requires that at least 20 percent of its retail sales of electricity come from renewable resources before 2010.
First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said the company is not limited to selling power in California.
"We have had discussions with Utah utilities? about selling power from the future phases of the Milford project and will continue to do so," Lamontagne said. "We can't get into the details of those discussions."
Rocky Mountain Power spokeswoman Margaret Oler said the company is also developing wind power, but mainly with Wyoming projects.
While becoming increasingly popular with customers only 3.6 percent of Rocky Mountain's portfolio contains renewable energy.
Oler said the company wants to increase that figure to 8.5 percent before 2016.
Brady said with the vast renewable resources in the Western deserts, what limits development is the transmission of electricity once it is generated.
Desert valleys like those in southwestern Utah are attractive to companies wanting to build solar facilities and Brady expects leases to power companies to grow.
Beaver County looks to be part of that expansion.