HEBER – It was appropriately windy Oct. 12 for the dedication of the first commercial-scale wind farm in Arizona.
And speakers ranging from U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, to executives from Salt River Project said the message the facility sends is as important as the power it will generate.
“This is the first step in bringing clean and renewable energy to Arizona,” said Kirkpatrick, whose district includes the facility. “I see it as our future. I think Arizona has the opportunity to be a world leader.”
Salazar said the Dry Lake Wind Power Project, comprised of 30 turbines on 6,000 acres of state, federal and private rangeland, fits with President Barack Obama’s goal of producing 25 percent of U.S. energy from renewable sources by 2025.
“We cannot afford to fail,” Salazar said. “In a time of crisis, America has always found the way forward. In moments of crisis we find opportunity.”
More than 1,000 people, including schoolchildren and area ranchers, traveled to the site between Heber and Holbrook to participate in the ceremony.
The facility, developed by Portland, Ore.-based Iberdrola Renewables, the U.S. subsidiary of Iberdrola Renovables of Spain, can generate 63 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 15,000 homes. The turbines, which are 396 feet tall and have blades 142 feet across, turn when the wind blows at least 8 mph.
The wind farm is expected to offset about 170 million pounds of carbon dioxide each year.
SRP is purchasing all of wind farm’s electricity under a 20-year agreement.
Richard Silverman, SRP’s general manager, said wind energy represents an opportunity for northern Arizona.
“For many centuries, wind has passed over this land, flourishing like a powerful river,” Silverman said. “But it’s never been harnessed.”
Kirkpatrick said expanding wind energy can generate much-needed jobs for Navajo County, where she is from.
“We’re using something we have plenty of,” she said. “Everyone here knows the wind blows all the time.”
Construction of the facility employed about 200, but the full-time staff is expected to number between five and 10.
Bill Elkins, whose Rocking Chair Ranch encompasses 46,000 acres, came up with the idea of farming the area’s wind. He said his cattle don’t mind the turbines.
“It gives you another way of keeping your cattle operations sustainable in the future,” Elkins said.