Wind power has the potential to become a viable, cost-effective source of energy in Arizona. Consistent winds in Northern Arizona make the Colorado Plateau a candidate for development of this low-carbon, renewable energy source. One commercial-scale wind farm is already in production. The Dry Lake Wind Plant near Snowflake went live in 2009, generating 63 MW of electric power with 30 turbines. Plant developers Iberdrola Renewables, an international renewable energy company, sells this power to the Salt River Project (SRP).
Other projects are being developed and monitored by entities like the Landsward Institute at Northern Arizona University (NAU) and the Arizona Wind Working Group based in Flagstaff, which is part of Wind Powering America. BP Wind Energy, EcoEnergy, and Foresight Wind Energy are just a few of the companies that have monitored wind potential and have wind projects in the works at various stages of development. Based on the number of companies interested in developing wind projects, it is likely that wind power projects will continue to grow, especially if the current projects are successfully developed.
Monitor nationwide wind speeds with the Hint wind map.
Hopi and Navajo Wind Projects
Wind power plays a significant role in tribal projects to establish renewable energy. Recently eight tribes received $1.3 million from the Arizona Renewable Energy Investment Fund to go towards renewable projects in their communities.
The Navajo Nation is developing the first green energy generation project to be majority-owned by an American Indian Tribe. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is working with Edison Mission Energy and SRP to develop a wind farm on Navajo land in the Boquillas Wind Project. Electricity from the wind farm, located 80 miles west of Flagstaff at Aubrey Cliffs, would go to SRP via power purchase agreement.
The Hopi are developing several wind projects. NAU, Arizona State University (ASU), Foresight Wind Energy, and the Arizona Wind Working Group are collaborating with the tribe to develop the Sunshine Wind Park, the Hotevilla MET (Meteorological) tower project, the Clear Creek Ranch, and the Hart Ranch Site. The different sites have made varying degrees of progress. Clear Creek Ranch and Hart Ranch have finished construction of some towers.
NAU Spreads Word on Wind
NAU leads the investigation into wind power on several fronts. Wind power is cheaper than solar power, but initial costs to develop any new technology are high. The university been researching the economic viability of wind power on the Colorado Plateau for power companies like Arizona Public Service (APS), and has issued wind energy assessment reports for eight Arizona counties, assessing the amount of wind that could be harnessed and the possible economic impact it could have. The reports targets windy areas in each county that are good candidates for commercial-scale development.
Wind and Wildlife
Though wind power has many benefits, a noted drawback is impact to bird and bat populations. Flying animals can be killed if they are caught in a wind turbine. In 2009, NAU professor William Auberle and his research team released Guidelines for Assessing the Potential Impacts to Birds and Bats from Wind Energy Development in Northern Arizona and the Southern Colorado Plateau (PDF) to address loss of wildlife from wind farms with the help of a $225,000, three-year grant from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Energy. The report coupled broadly accepted guidelines on wind turbine safety with data on area migration patterns and bird habitat for 80 species of birds and 15 species of bats. The result? A bird safety roadmap adaptable throughout Arizona’s Colorado Plateau.