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Utah wind power poised to increase

Published: Friday, April 18 2014 6:18 p.m. MDT

Windmills generate power near Spanish Fork Canyon Friday, April 18, 2014.

Hugh Carey, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Four new wind farms are poised for development in Utah after Rocky Mountain Power inked agreements with the companies to buy the power over 20 years.

The farms, once in action, will have the capacity to produce 300 megawatts of energy, or enough to power 93,600 homes.

Ultimately, funneling that renewable resource through Rocky Mountain Power's electrical grid will mean Utah has a cleaner energy portfolio because more wind power ultimately means fewer carbon emissions.

"What is fabulous and unique about these power purchase agreements with these renewable resources is that they are for 20 years or more," said Sophie Hayes, staff attorney with Utah Clean Energy. "That means the prices are going to stay the same. You can't do that with many fuel resources because the costs go up and down. This resource is not subject to that volatility."

Because of the way the utility company allocates its costs across the six-state region that it serves, Hayes said, the output of the wind farms ultimately will benefit Utah customers of Rocky Mountain Power

Hayes was embroiled in complicated pricing controversy involving Rocky Mountain Power, the wind developers and consumer advocates that was decided in part late last summer. The decision paved the way for inked agreements for the development of two projects in the Monticello area in San Juan County and two other wind farms in Delta, which will add 300 megawatts to Utah's already installed capacity of 326 megawatts.

Clean energy advocates point out that the wind projects are significant given Utah's fledgling resources.

"As a state, we are not doing much," said Meghan Dutton, program manager for Utah Clean Energy. "To have the 325 megawatts is not really a lot, but we are definitely moving in the right direction."

A new analysis by the U.S. Energy Administration shows that just 12 states produced 80 percent of the wind-generated electricity for the nation in 2013. Overall, there was a 19 percent increase in output from 2012 to 2013, a factor analysts attribute to projects rushing to come online to take advantage of federal production tax credits.

The additional wind produced power slowed somewhat in 2013, but Gwen Bredehoeft, an analyst with the energy administration, said wind resources remain under rampant development.

"Wind generation is setting new records," she said. "And the records are continuing to be broken in 2014. In terms of what we see moving forward, it is starting to approach hydro in terms of generation and in terms of affecting the grid. It is beginning to account for a signficant amount of generation, particularly in off-peak times."

Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Jeff Hymas said wind or solar power purchase agreements help to diversify the types of energy resources providing power for customers in Utah and other states.

"It is good to have a mix of different types of generation, because prices can fluctuate and you do not want to put all of your eggs in one basket. … The end result is that more wind and solar resources that are being built in the state."

Utah's wind power output remains minimal, but it still surpasses a block of states in the Southeast. In the energy analysis, Texas led the way for wind energy production in 2013, followed by Iowa and California.

Bredehoeft said high wind power states share common traits, such as a vibrant natural wind resource to begin with plus a renewable energy standard that mandates a source of energy derived from a renewable resource.

Utah does not have a renewable energy standard, but a "goal" to get to 20 percent by 2025.

Because goals are not a reliable indicator of how aggressively a state will pursue renewable energy projects, Bredehoeft said that factor is tossed when the administration makes predictions about future energy capacity.

Still, Utah in the last year has been host to a slate of renewable energy announcements that can only serve to bolster its position in a "clean" economy.

In September, Energy Capital Group announced plans for a 300-megawatt solar plant outside of Delta to connect to IPP, and, recently, Scatec said it had secured agreements for an 80-megawatt field in Iron County.

Utah Clean Energy was also picked to be the Southwest's Four Corners hub serving as a virtual informational database on wind resources and to break down logistical and policy barriers to the development of more resources.

Ultimately, renewable energy generates more than just power, Dutton likes to point out.

"It has a huge economic benefit for rural communities," she said, pointing out that before First Wind developed its wind farm in Beaver County, the assessed property taxes for the county were valued at $595 million. After the project was commissioned, that value was at $1 billion, she said.

The farm also trains and hires young men and women out of high school — significant for a rural community that faces challenges with employment options.

"They call them First Wind kids," she said.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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