The Spanish Fork Wind Project is an interesting success story about how a tenacious developer was able to build one of the first urban wind farms in the nation (Hartman, Stafford and Reategui 2016). However, this story is more of a tale regarding how statutes governing the siting, development, and transmission of renewable energy resources conflict with goals to promote more renewable energy production. The completion of this project consisted of a series of hurdles that were only completed due to Tracy Livingston and Christine Mikell’s tenacity in pursuing the project to completion (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 330-331).
To accomplish this project, they needed to find a site that was appropriate. Transmission lines are costly and difficult to build due to several issues so siting the renewable wind generation near population centers was critical. However, most energy projects like the Spanish Fork Wind Project required zoning changes first to be able to implement (Hartman, Stafford and Reategui 2016). The potential site had to then pass local residents’ concerns like the noise levels, home values, community character, and aesthetics (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 331). There was too much opposition from the general public that the siting had to be moved again back to an old gravel pit that was originally thought to have water-quality concerns but on closer inspection was okay for development (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 330).
Once developed, the ability to sell that power to the local monopoly energy utility only yielded minimal revenue. Utilities must buy power generation under Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) at an “avoided cost” (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 330). However, the local utility was providing value based on their already depreciated coal assets, so the developers had to petition to get a better evaluation based on other wind resource purchases (Hartman, Stafford and Reategui 2016). The economics were still difficult based on all the sunk costs already invested in siting and other hurdles they encountered. To continue on with the project required temporary property-tax reductions, state tax incentives, and designation of the wind project as a community-redevelopment area (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 330). Eventually the tenacious Livingston and Mikell were successful, and they finished the first urban wind farm in 2008 that powered nearly 6,000 homes in the region from its 18.9-megawatt system (Salzman and Thompson 2019, 330).
This project highlights how many regulatory roadblocks were in the way of developing a renewable energy project that greatly benefited the community. To ease these issues, states and county governments should be developing siting, development, and transmission studies that outline specific regions that can be fast tracked for renewable energy production. Public engagement can be part of that upfront process. Once areas are designated as being ready for development, it can spur businesses to come in quickly to accomplish the builds. Streamlined permitting with a comprehensive approach is critical for future success since renewable energy penetration is required for a cleaner grid but efforts to develop more renewable generation are piecemeal and overly complicated as was seen in the Spanish Fork Wind Project. Since the public receives many of the benefits from renewable energy development, the entire burden should not be placed on developers and should instead be shared by all, just like the benefits are.
Hartman, Cathy L., Edwin R. Stafford, and Sandra Reategui. 2016. “Harvesting Utah’s Urban Winds.” The Solutions Journal. Accessed August 1, 2022. https://thesolutionsjournal.com/2016/02/22/harvesting-utahs-urban-winds/.
Salzman, James, and Barton H. Jr. Thompson. 2019. Environmental Law and Policy. 5th ed. St. Paul, MN: Foundation Press.