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Big wind farm could start up in November

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Published: Saturday, Oct. 24 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah's largest wind farm is mostly complete and could start generating commercial electricity in November, First Wind development director Peter Sullivan told the House Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee on Wednesday morning.

The 200-megawatt facility in Millard and Beaver counties will provide power to the Southern California Public Power Authority in its first and second phases, Sullivan said. The Milford Wind Corridor is contracted to power roughly 50,000 homes in Burbank, Pasadena and Los Angeles.

Subsequent phases could provide renewable energy to Utah homes and businesses, he said.

The project will almost double the total energy-producing capacity of Boston-based First Wind, which owns wind-generation facilities across the continental United States and in Hawaii.

The Utah facility is being praised for the amount of wind generated at the 40-square-mile site and that the wind blows during the day, when energy demand generally peaks. The wind farm has also been successful because of state and local support, Sullivan told state representatives.

"The wind here isn't howling like it is on a ridge in Maui, but it's coming at the right time," he said, explaining that many other United States locations produce more wind but do so overnight.

The Milford Wind Corridor project started in 2002, when Milford High School teacher Andy Swapp involved his students in studying the potential for green power. The group started measuring wind with handheld devices and eventually turned the project over to First Wind in 2005.

Since then, construction of the $400 million project has created 250 on-site construction jobs and more than 500 turbine manufacturing jobs throughout the supply chain, Sullivan said.

The facility will require between eight and 10 full-time employees when it's up and running, he said.

The wind farm will eventually include 159 turbines that rise 262 feet high, silhouetted against a backdrop of jagged mountain peaks and federal grazing land.

State representatives also heard about the potential of wind-energy storage during Wednesday's interim committee meeting.

Christopher Thomas, policy director for HEAL Utah, told the elected officials that technology is available to store compressed wind energy underground in geological structures such as abandoned mines.

When needed, the energy can be combusted with natural gas and can power wind turbines at 80 percent to 90 percent of its original capacity, Thomas said.

Such facilities already exist in Europe and Alabama, and several green companies are considering them, he said. If successful, the technology could make wind energy available much of the time, even when the gales are quiet.

e-mail: rpalmer@desnews.com

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