MONTICELLO — A battle has erupted over a proposal for southeastern Utah's first wind farm.
It's ironic because city leaders in Monticello have aggressively promoted wind industry development. Now, some residents are shocked to find out just how close some of the giant wind turbines would be.
"You know, they like wind towers," Mayor Doug Allen said of his constituents. "They like the ones you see in Spanish Fork. But I'm not so sure how much they'll like them when they see them from their house every day."
Officials of Wasatch Wind, the project developer, believe residents will accept the wind farm once it's in place. Spokeswoman Michelle Stevens said, "At Spanish Fork many residents also had concerns prior to the wind farm being constructed and since the wind farm was constructed, the city has not received complaints."
Three separate companies have wind farm proposals on the table near Monticello. All three have obtained conditional use permits from San Juan County's planning and zoning board.
Two of the proposed wind farms are a comfortable distance from town. But the third would be in grazing areas just outside city limits. Stevens said there will be 20 to 27 turbines. Each will be 400 to 500 feet high, depending on the design that is chosen.
The turbine closest to town would be about a mile from Monticello's Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some wind towers might be within a half mile of some property lines at the northern end of town, but Wasatch Wind said the closest city boundary will be approximately three-fourths of a mile from the nearest turbine.
For about 10 years, officials of Monticello and of San Juan County have been actively courting the wind farm industry. According to the mayor, they spent more than $200,000 in federal funds to build meteorology towers and to collect data.
It proved what everybody already knew.
"There's a lot of wind in Monticello," Allen said.
The data collected over the years played a role in attracting several proposals from wind companies.
Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, strongly supports the development of wind farms because he expects them to improve the tax base and provide a few jobs.
"I think wind would be a good thing for the county," Adams said. But he is remaining neutral on the current controversy because he expects opponents to appeal the conditional use permit to the county commission.
Some residents are comfortable with the idea of a wind farm close to home.
Georgia Rasmussen's family leased ranch land to Wasatch Wind and her home is within a few hundred yards of a proposed wind turbine.
"I don't mind their looks at all," Rasmussen said. "I think it adds to the mountain (views), not take it away."
In the center of the wind-farm site plan is a section of land nicknamed the "doughnut hole." It's owned by nine separate landowners who have created the Northern Monticello Alliance to oppose the turbines.
"They're surrounded completely by them," the mayor said. "I completely understand why that would be a concern to them."
Using Google Earth, the alliance created graphics purporting to show what the wind farm will look like and how close it will be to the LDS temple in Monticello.
Wasatch Wind disputes those images, saying the scale is wrong and misleading. Last week, the mayor called on Wasatch Wind to create its own images or models.
"It may lessen the opposition," the mayor said. "It may increase the opposition. That's a risk they should be willing to take."
Stevens said the company has begun work on visual simulations following the city's request. "I don't think anyone has denied that the turbines will be seen from some areas of Monticello," Stevens said. "But from much or most of the populated areas of the city, the views of the wind farm would be obstructed by trees, other buildings and topography."
Janet Ross, executive director of the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education, is a strong supporter of the wind farm project and welcomes it as a clean energy project. But she wants a little more breathing room, especially for the non-profit group's new Discovery Center under development at the north end of Monticello.
"I will continue to push for that because I think for aesthetics, for safety, for noise, it needs to be a little further away. And that's what town people are concerned about too. They don't want flicker-shadows in their windows (from sunlight glinting off the windmills.) They don't want ice-balls flung at them."
Wasatch Wind originally told her the nearest windmill would be less than a half mile from the Discovery Center. But she believes the company is working hard to adjust their plans to accommodate such concerns, partly to make the development project a better sell to wind-farm builders.
"They want to sell a package to somebody that has happy neighbors," Ross said. "That's their goal or no one's going to buy it."
Stevens echoed that point. "It's also important to note that we've been in contact with these landowners for the last several months to find solutions that address their concerns."