Tuesday, February 02, 2010

{It Put Arizona on the Energy Map}

I love getting out of the valley to cover stories. Selfishly, I enjoy the mini road trip that takes
me into Arizona's big, beautiful, wide open spaces. But it's also a really great opportunity to
share something with people they probably wouldn't otherwise get a chance to see.

Just before Thanksgiving, I went out to the first wind farm in our state. I got to talk to Bill
Elkins -- who was the mastermind of the project -- and see the wind turbines in action.

CORRECTION: The title here says it's the Snowflake Wind Farm. The wind farm is actually
between Heber and Holbrook in Arizona.

Here's a few details I didn't have a chance to include in my story:

* Background: Bill is a fifth generation cattle rancher. He first came up with the idea of
putting a wind farm on his property after seeing them in the midwest where the topography
was similar to his land. They started doing research, connected with NAU to get some information, bought their own testing equipment, and started receiving certified data. With
that data, they could then start testing to see if they had viable wind. They did this data collection 24/7 for several years.

* Timeline: It took over seven years for this wind farm to go from idea to reality. Bill says
there were several times they didn't think it was going to happen, and he's still amazed that
it did. The actual building phase of the wind farm -- about a half a year. It was a clean, fast process. Bill says they actually left Rocking Horse Ranch in great condition afterwards. They built roads that were even better then the originals, and they reseeded the ground right up
to the edge of the roads and bases of the towers.

* Finances: The total project cost $100 million. Bill declined to say what he sold the project
for. He did mention they recouped all the money from their original investment, and they
have long term contract in place.

* Firsts: There are 30 turbines in all. That's the first phase of the project. Ten are on Bill's
land. Ten are on state land. And the final ten are on land that belongs to Bureau of Land Management. They didn't need the BLM and state land to do the project, but they decided
to see if they could make it happen. Now, Arizona is the first state in the country to have a portion of a wind farm built on it.

* Wind speeds: I mentioned the turbines can start generating power with winds as low as
eight mph. They have to shut down if winds exceed 65 mph. When the winds get high, the
blades feather out first -- like the wings on an airplane. If that doesn't slow the blades down enough, they'll shut down until the wind slows. That's a safety measure because the long
blades could smack into the tower if blown too hard. Bill says people don't realize it, but they'll get winds of 100 mph out there from time to time.

* Interest: The grand opening drew double the number of people they were expecting. In attendance -- Secretary of the Interior, Salazar. People often come out to tour the wind farm.

* Cattle: We asked if the cattle seemed to mind the changes on their land. Bills says the
cattle don't even notice it. The actual turbines have such a small footprint on the ground.
At most, he says he's seen a cattle come over to one and stand in the shade it creates, but
that's about it.

* Sound: You can hear a little sound come from them when they first start turning. But once they get going, they're very quiet. Bill says when they're really moving in the wind, the sound reminds him of being about a half a mile away from the ocean -- a calming, peaceful, quiet wash.

I think that's it. Hope you enjoyed the show!

1 comment:

Jenny said...

This is so interesting Sam! I love learning new things and it's great to learn them from you on tv! I noticed the hand on the knee shot...I'm still contemplating what it means, but it definately caught my attention. This story was very cool. Don't ya just love cow farmers? - AMR's Mom