The winds of change are blowing at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon, and a California-based company is there to capitalize.
A 19-megawatt, nine-turbine wind-energy facility is up and running, selling electricity to PacifiCorp and representing the first utility-scale wind project in the state's history.
"I'm sure others will catch up and pass it, because it's not a big project by wind-energy standards, but it is the biggest in Utah at the moment," said Randolph Mann, vice president of wind development for Edison Mission Group Inc., based in Irvine, Calif. EMG manages the power-generation business and other unregulated subsidiaries of Edison International.
"The idea is to make use of a really unique and good wind resource in the canyon we're located in, where the wind funnels through that canyon and right across and through our wind turbines to generate clean, renewable energy for the region.
"It's quite a bit different and a little bit unique from many of the projects we typically work on, because it is in that canyon. Normally, we're on a hilltop or ridgetop somewhere. Here, we're at the bottom of a canyon, because that's where the resource blows through. Another unique thing is we're able to make use of a used gravel pit and create a beneficial re-use for that location."
Each of the nine turbines produces about 2.1 megawatts, with the towers jutting into the sky about 280 feet and holding blade rotors more than 136 feet long, putting the tip of a blade at its highest point 416 feet from the ground.
Typically, wind farms operate at least 75 percent of the time with at least a 20 mph breeze at hub height, Mann said. The Spanish Fork project is expected to produce energy about 80 percent of the time. The 19 megawatts are enough to power about 6,000 typical homes.
"These turbines are probably a little bit unusual, because they are a little closer to a population center," he said.
When developing a wind project, his company looks for a wind resource that is as close as possible to a high-voltage transmission grid, "so you can get your power to market," Mann said. "And, of course, you look for a place where you can get access to the land and cooperating landowners and where you can build a project without damage to the environment or cause undue disruption to the environment."
Edison Mission Group took over the project from original developer Wasatch Wind and began construction last October on a 70-acre site. The turbines and other equipment occupy about five acres. And while Mann declined to reveal the project's cost, wind farms typically cost $1.8 million to $2 million per megawatt, ballparking the Spanish Fork project at $34 million to $38 million. The plant's power-sales agreement with PacifiCorp is for 20 years and at an undisclosed rate.
Prior to Edison Mission's development, Utah's wind-energy projects were comprised of two turbines at Camp Williams that together produce less than one megawatt. The company is considering several sites in Utah for development of more projects, Mann said.