SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah startup says it will add sonar and laser devices along with mechanical wind meters to assess the potential for a wind farm along the Wyoming border.
Together, the devices will tell the company where on leased lands to put spinning turbines of different sizes to match wind conditions that can vary with the terrain.
It's a nuanced approach for wind farms, said Dick Cutler, managing member of Flaming Gorge Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Salt Lake City-based RAAM Power Inc. "We're almost becoming a wind research facility," he said Monday.
A contractor was calibrating the sonar measuring devices Monday in Utah's remote Daggett County, which hugs the Wyoming border.
The company says it has snapped up rights to around 50 square miles, promising royalties to ranchers for use of their lands to install wind turbines.
The company isn't disclosing the royalty rate, but Cutler says ranchers are happy to take the money in Daggett County, population 940, which has little business outside of agriculture and recreational boating on Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
Locals around Manila, the county seat, joke that the sagebrush all leans in one direction and winds blow 40 mph most of the time.
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The company, however, believes that wind speeds and directions vary significantly depending on terrain, with wind velocity higher in some drainage basins than level plateaus.
The idea is to match turbines of the correct size for money and efficiency gains across the sagebrush lands.
"That's not been done in this country yet," Cutler said.
Flaming Gorge Wind is inviting Utah State University to experiment with using balloon-equipped LIDAR, or Light Detection And Ranging systems, to measure wind movements in the area.
The company already installed mechanical wind meters from the Utah Geological Survey. Those devices are measuring wind speeds over long periods of time. All of the devices are intended to assess the best locations for 50 or more turbines.
Flaming Gorge Wind is planning to build a 100-megawatt wind farm — equipment with that capacity to power around 7,000 homes. Wind farms, however. typically operate at under 40 percent capacity because the wind doesn't always blow.