Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wind power coming to Benton County, Arkansas

The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Wind Energy To Be Studied In Benton County

By Scarlet Sims
BENTONVILLE -- A proposed tower that measures the temperature and speed of wind in Sulfur Springs could bring new economic opportunities to Benton County, said Aaron Weigel, development manager of Tradewind Energy.

The Benton County Planning Board's Technical Advisory Committee reviewed plans Wednesday to put a 195-foot-tall meteorological tower on 80 acres off Sibley Road. The Planning Board will decide whether to approve the tower's construction during its regular board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17.

The tower is not a cell tower, but fell under the county's tower regulations, said planing director Ashley Pope. Weigel requested a variance because the tower does not withstand as much high wind as a cell tower must.

Nothing is located within 600 feet of the proposed tower site.

"It's really out in the middle of the pasture," Planning Director Ashley Pope said.

The NRG Systems tower is the strongest model available, Weigel said. Some towers have withstood tornadoes, he said. About 1,500 towers have been installed nationwide, and Tradewind has about 50 towers.

Models show Northwest Arkansas should have around 14 miles per hour wind, which will make wind power energy profitable, Weigel said. The proposed tower will help Tradewind prove turbines are viable, he said.

One tower is already monitoring wind in Oklahoma, a state listed as one of the top 10 states with wind-energy potential. Arkansas may have wind potential, according to a 1991 study. Weigel said wind is affected by trees and elevation and may be different than Oklahoma. He said he hopes to lease another site for another tower to study wind in northwest Benton County soon.

Tradewind plans to lease the property for the tower for five years, Weigel said. If the project is viable, turbines could begin being built in three years, Weigel said. He estimated the cost of the total project to be $300 million to $500 million. That means more tax money for the county and more work for subcontractors, Weigel said.

"It's a large economic boon for the area," he said.

Fast Fact

Oklahoma is listed as No. 8 of the top 20 states that have wind energy potential, according to the American Wind Energy Association Web site. Arkansas has moderate to good wind energy potential, meaning the state has winds above 6 meters per second.

Source: American Wind Energy Association.

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