(previously AWEA Deputy Director, Community and Distributed Wind)
I’ve known Christine for more than a decade. I first worked with her when she was the wind contact for the state of Utah during my stint with Wind Powering America. WPA is an organization set up by the U.S. Department of Energy designed to increase renewable wind energy development across the country; this includes farmers, ranchers, Native Americans, rural and consumer-owned utilities. We focused on states with strong potential for renewable wind energy development. Colorado, Wyoming and Utah clearly fit the criteria.
Despite many challenges, Christine somehow managed to convene the first wind conference in the state. It was very successful, drawing more than 300 participants. Keep in mind that the idea of renewable energy was new in Utah and leadership in Utah was focused on the fossil fuel industry. The state was not known as a citadel for renewable energy development.
But Christine was successful in changing minds and attitudes. She got stuff done, and she did all this against strong headwinds - if you’ll pardon the expression.
With the help of the non-profit organization, Utah Clean Energy, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s wind power staff, Christine initiated a series of community meetings throughout rural Utah. With this grassroots outreach, she educated and encouraged landowners, community leaders and citizens on the challenges and the considerable benefits and the positive economic impact of developing a renewable wind energy projects.
From there, she jumped into managing the state’s wind mapping and anemometer loan projects that enabled developers to identify the most viable sites for utility-scale wind projects.
Here’s a terrific example of her foundational work and accomplishments in little town of Milford, Utah.
It’s a classic old frontier railroad and mining town, population, 1360. The railroads have vanished to history and the mines shut down decades ago. Like many small towns in the high desert of the southwest, Milford needed a path to the future.
Enter, Christine Watson Mikell. In 2001, she found the perfect collaborator – Mr. Andy Swapp, Milford High School’s shop and technology teacher. With Christine’s encouragement, Andy caught the vision and the promise of renewable wind energy right away.
He enlisted some of his ninth grade students in a learn-and-build project, erecting a “met” tower on his farm. His energy and enthusiasm were infectious and inspiring. Together they built a tower and anemometer that collected precise wind data, 24/7. The instruments measured wind speed, direction and frequency to ascertain whether this vast stretch of high desert would pay off in harnessing the power of the wind.
As Andy told a Utah public radio reporter, “For last fifteen years I have been teaching the next generation of engineers, builders, welders, cabinet makers, and wind technicians.” He knew this would be a way for his kids to make a living – and a difference.
While Andy and his students were learning the nuts and bolts of wind energy development, they educated parents, community leaders and even took the positive power of wind energy message all through the community. Their enthusiasm paid off and by 2011, Milford had the largest renewable wind energy project in the state.
By 2012, the project was pumping $2.9 million in tax revenue to Beaver County. And some of Andy’s students had full-time jobs in the wind industry.
By then Andy Swapp had embraced renewable solar energy too, installing solar panels around Milford High School.
Today, the Milford Wind Corridor Project is the largest wind project in Utah and one of the largest in the American West, generating 306 MW of electricity.
Since working with Andy as a key player in developing the largest renewable wind project in Utah, Christine Watson was also the key player in developing Utah’s first commercial wind project, in Spanish Fork Canyon. She had pivoted naturally from the public to the private sector, her tireless and creative work made the Spanish Fork Canyon project in the densely populated area of Utah County a reality in the face of fierce opposition.
As in most things, the first is always the most difficult. Her perseverance and determination was tested all along the way during siting, permitting, financing, and construction. Christine crossed the finish line every time.
In her work in government and in the private sector, Christine always brought creativity, enthusiasm and a positive attitude, along with her infectious smile. She was a key collaborator with everyone who was lucky enough to work with her from Wind Powering America.
She has continued prospecting in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, and using her considerable experience and creativity in developing additional wind facilities.
Christine Watson Mikell belongs on Utah’s Mount Rushmore of Wind advocates and developers.