United States

United States

From oil to a market with prospects -- Arizona heading for the wind map with 75 MW project

A California wind pioneer and a Canadian oil and gas explorer have formed a British Columbia wind power company that could be the first to build commercial wind projects in Arizona. Western Wind Energy Corp expects to sign up to three power purchase agreements totalling 75 MW with undisclosed Arizona entities within a month.

Michael Patterson, a wind developer near Tehachapi, California since 1980 and CEO of Western Wind, and Jeffrey Ciachurski, the new company's president, worked together for over a year to form the 100% wind business, and the two have now put projects in Arizona and California on their drawing board. Ciachurski says he changed businesses because wind development now is a much more attractive business than oil and gas exploration.

"I put $20 million holes in the ground in Kern County and prayed we'd hit," he says of his oil experience in California. "Then I looked at wind energy and saw the timing is right. It is by far more stable and rewarding than what's going on in the oil and gas business." Ciachurski hopes his new company, which is publicly traded on the Canadian Venture Exchange, will fill a niche between the huge capitalised companies in the wind industry, such as FPL Energy, and the ma-and-pop developers.

The Arizona project, known as Quail Springs, is near Kingman in the northern part of the state. Ciachurski says the company owns the site and wind data, which shows class six wind speeds, but that Arizona has been a difficult state in which to develop wind. "People in Arizona want clean energy, yet the state's not known for its wind resources." One reason is the state utility's reliance on coal resources, which creates a difficult political climate for the development of other energy resources. Yet, he nearly has an agreement to develop 40 MW and is working on two others -- a 30 MW project and a 5 MW project.

ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW

Patterson, whose family owns turbines near Tehachapi and nearly 600 undeveloped acres, brought to Western Wind a 100 MW expansion on his land. He had been waiting for the completion of a Southern California transmission line that will clear up congestion problems in the Tehachapi area before pursuing the expansion. The $85 million project is still in the permitting stage, so it will probably be developed after the Arizona projects, Ciachurski says. He did not say whether the company has a power purchase agreement.

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