Kyle Christensen moved to Utah last spring from a community in California where solar power was big. He wanted to bring that energy mindset to his company Western Botanicals Inc., which pulled up stakes on the West Coast in 2006 for a cheaper home in Spanish Fork.
"I was kind of turned on by the fact that you could do alternative energy and it could save you real money," said Christensen. He is co-owner of the $3 million business with fewer than 20 employees who help manufacture and distribute herbal medicines for Western Botanicals.
Christensen sold his business partner Randy Giboney on the idea of putting up wind turbines on site that would provide clean energy and help defray his company's power costs. Their ideal setup would mean being able to tie into the area's existing utility grid, but there's been no quick trip to that end.
"It's not as simple as people want to make it," said Spanish Fork Mayor Joe Thomas.
The process of tying into the grid has to go through the Utah Municipal Power Agency, which for years has provided electricity to six cities in Utah County, including Spanish Fork, via several sources in and around Utah, including coal-fired power plants and the Glen Canyon Dam.
"We encourage wind turbines," said UMPA general manager Leon Pexton. He said demand to tie into UMPA lines is only beginning to surface. "We're just starting to work through that issue."
In addition to needing time to figure out how tying in to UMPA's lines would work, Thomas said other issues needing resolutions include determining whether turbines would be a noise nuisance and whether they're installed on the user's land. "It can't be ugly," Thomas added.
Pexton said UMPA member cities would need to resolve any issues with their business strategy in the context of contracts that require them to buy power from UMPA. "That's not insurmountable," he said. "That's done a lot."
Christensen and Giboney have been encouraged by the new Spanish Fork Canyon Wind Farm project, with its nine-turbine, 19-megawatt utility-scale system that can deliver enough electricity to PacifCorp to power 6,000 homes. But the city doesn't buy any of the farm's relatively expensive power, which gets routed elsewhere outside the city.
UMPA, however, sells power to the California-based farm's owner Edison Mission Group Inc. when the wind isn't blowing and the huge turbines aren't turning, which means the farm can't provide its own electricity to run essential equipment.
"It's really the right thing to do," Thomas said about at least being host to Utah's first large wind farm. "We're doing our share."
For Western Botanicals' owners, Spanish Fork hasn't acted quickly enough to accommodate the business, which will first need a change in the city's ordinance to even put up a pole for one turbine.
"We're still fighting," Christensen said. "It's going to happen it's not a matter of if, it's when."
Now a report released this month urges policymakers to get on board with community-based wind power.
The report is called "Community Wind 101: A Primer for Policymakers," put out by the groups Harvesting Clean Energy, 25x'25 America's Energy Future and The Energy Foundation. They say that developing wind energy sources at all levels "will require modernizing and expanding transmission systems to carry power from remote windy areas to cities."
The nonprofit 25x'25's goal is to see this country get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources like wind, solar and biofuels by 2025.
"In places where transmission is currently limited, community wind with its typically smaller scale can be developed to serve local needs," reads a summary of their report.
The three groups go on to say that a "favorable" policy environment, with attention to tax incentives, is needed to overcome high startup costs. They hold up Minnesota as an example of a wind-friendly state, pointing out how that state has offered smaller-scale wind producers "production incentives, guaranteed markets, standardized legal agreements, capital support and other assistance."
The report can be found at www.harvestcleanenergy.org/wind/CommWind.htm.
The Western Botanicals owners want to put up as many as three turbines on 45-foot poles on their property that includes less than an acre of land in an industrial area. They've determined that the best energy-producing winds come during the evening.
Tying into the local utility grid would mean all of that energy being produced while they're not around at night would be transmitted into the grid for public consumption. In effect, depending upon the volume of their own power consumption, the tie-in would generate credits toward their overall power bill through so-called "net metering" if they use less power than they're producing.
The Western Botanicals owners have so far been advised to purchase batteries to store electricity for private consumption at the business. That idea would be fine as a backup power source if the grid failed, Christensen added, but overall he's against essentially being forced (if he can't tie into the grid) to buy batteries with a shelf life that would mean needing to replace them every five or 10 years. He wants access to the grid.
Utah-based West Mountain Wind Power owner/installer Steve Painter is a dealer for Southwest Wind Power. He is installing more and more small wind systems at homes and businesses at roughly $10,000 each in Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Utah. Painter's systems are designed for integration with existing grids.
His business is benefiting from a greater acceptance of cities to allow small-scale wind projects, in particular those that get grid access. Painter's concern is that cities like Spanish Fork will come up with policies that are too prohibitive to homeowners or small business owners who want to jump into the wind market.
"Don't make a policy so no one can use it," Painter warned.
In the meantime, Giboney is anxious for action from Spanish Fork officials. The goal, he noted, is not to make money off of wind power."I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do," Giboney said. That, and it will knock "a few hundred bucks" off his utility bill each month, which can add up to long-term savings for a small company originally attracted to Spanish Fork from California for a cheaper place to do business.