For rural landowners, wind and solar development can mean an additional revenue stream to diversify income.
For Enyo, working with landowners and members of the community is the most important and the most rewarding part of the development process. We work hard to establish open and honest relationships and to communicate clearly and frequently, from beginning to end.
I met Christine when her company began talking with community leaders and landowners about building a wind project in Monticello, Utah.
Since the wind blows pretty much all the time in Monticello, I only see an upside to wind power. I enjoy looking at the wind towers. I can see them every day out of my office window.
The school sits on 48 acres off U.S. Highway 91. A couple of million people drive by the entrance every year. Some have seen this country in the movies or traveling through Monticello on their way to a river trip or hiking adventure.
Today, they also see 27 wind turbines on the land behind the Four Corners School. Some visitors come in thinking we’re the visitor’s center for the wind farm! They always have tons of questions about how the turbines work, so we made the wind farm a great teaching tool for our science center. We have a hands-on learning station that’s a great show-and-tell which explains how wind works to generate electricity.
The Latigo Wind Farm is a benefit to our entire community. During the construction phase, most of the sub-contracting went to local businesses. The county and local schools will benefit every year from the tax revenues the wind farm generates.
It’s because of Christine that the Four Corners School has a good relationship with sPower, the company that acquired the wind farm after her company planned, permitted, and developed it. She set the foundation for good relationships with local landowners, elected officials, and our community.
In 1886 the first of the Grant Brothers arrived in the Boxelder Park area and took out homestead claims. In 1890 my great grandfather came to work with his brother and took out his own homestead claim. Throughout the next several years they each continued to buy land to expand their ranching operations. In 1916 my great grandfather purchased the ranch that we operate today. Our family has lived and worked on this land now for five generations. We run 350 cows and 200 yearlings on our ranch. We grow our hay and harvest it for the animals’ winter feed.
When my great-great-grandfather first homesteaded here over 100 years ago, everyone burned wood and or coal for heat and kerosene lanterns for light. Electricity changed everything and made the modern world. In the 21st century, everything will change again.
In this part of the country, the wind blows most of the time. Wyoming is one of the windiest states in the union. In the winter, the wind robs heat from our cattle, chills, and even freezes newborn calves to death. The wind can blow hard enough that we lose a lot of the hay that we feed the cattle. This causes us to have to overfeed to ensure that the cattle get enough to feed each day to meet their daily requirements. Flat out, the wind costs us money.
In 2007, we heard about plans to develop wind energy here in Wyoming. In March of 2008, our neighbor and I decided to see if we had the quality of wind for the development of a wind project. We leased an anemometer for a year to gain valuable information that was needed for wind development. Before we had even collected a years’ worth of data, wind developing companies started knocking on our doors.
When we first started talking to utility-scale wind developers, the area landowners who agreed to wind development concluded that Wasatch Wind was the most viable company in the bunch.
Over the next several months we worked on developing a contract that everybody could live with and agree to. In September 2009 we entered into a contract with Wasatch Wind to develop the Pioneer Wind Project.
This contract meant that wind is finally going to pay me back for what it has robbed us for so many years.
We quickly learned we needed to understand power purchase agreements, site development, wind research, and potential impacts on wildlife and the environment. We had to get smart and learn everything we could as we considered what it would take to build one of the first private wind farms in the state of Wyoming.
Here’s what you need to know about Wyoming, it is an export state – we export coal, gas, beef, soybeans, oats – and even our children. Our children have to leave our state because we don’t have enough jobs to keep them here at home. Farms and ranches operate with such tight margins it is extremely difficult to provide financially for more than a couple of families.
Exporting power generated by the Pioneer Wind Project will provide sustainable revenues that families here can count on for decades. Every dollar we get from a lease or rental agreement is a dollar we don’t have to pay in interest. The money stays in our pocket and goes back into the operation. This means we can continue working on our ranches and allows us the opportunity to bring our kids back home to become the next generation of ranchers.
The main thing landowners need to realize is that the wind project will change your landscape.
I’d much rather see our ranches and farms with wind turbines across the landscape than a housing subdivision. Personally, I like the look of the turbines. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, there are people that will never like the turbines or any kind of change for that matter.
We started working directly with Christine early on in the project and she was in charge of development. She was the one who made contact with landowners, environmental groups, and public officials. She lined up operators, developers, and contractors.
The Pioneer Wind Project has taken a lot longer than we ever imagined because of legal challenges. The landowners involved in the project, along with Christine and her team stuck it out, and eventually, the courts ruled in our favor.
After clearing the many hurdles and delays since the signing of the contract in 2009, the Pioneer Wind Project broke ground in May of 2016 and is producing 80MW of power today.
We own a ranch near Monticello, Utah, just outside the city limit. We raise about 200 head of beef cattle on our land and we raise hay and wheat as well. All together we manage about 5000 acres on our ranch and on BLM land leased to us.
My dad and granddad were ranchers, so I’ve been a farmer and rancher since I was a boy.
A few years back, we had four wind groups come through town and they were all trying to get us landowners to sign lease agreements so they could build a big wind farm here in San Juan County.
At, first I said to myself, “This thing is never gonna go.” I thought it was an exercise in futility, to tell the truth.
I’ll tell you, the first boy that came through, well I wanted more money for the yearly rental payment than he wanted to offer. Then I met Christine Watson Mikell and we got down to business.
She’s good at dealing with people. Sometimes when things weren’t going my way, she would listen, and she was able to see my side of things instead of just getting argumentative.
Every landowner involved in this project had to figure out how leasing their property for what’s called an easement would affect their property, setting aside acreage for towers or transmission lines. We negotiated a lease for a transmission line that connects to the power company’s substation.
Now, since I raise wheat and hay, I couldn’t have junk in the way of my irrigation lines, so I had them build the transmission line three-quarters of a mile from where they originally wanted to put it.
You know, some folks are nasty, and some are nice. Christine’s a nice gal and she did a good job.
I’ll tell you, if I were running a company instead of running my ranch, Christine would be on the list of people I would like to hire to run my company.
I’m in the business of trying to make a living for my family. Since we signed the lease agreement, my wife and I get a little money to set aside for our retirement while we’re still working hard on the ranch. And this will be here for my boys whenever we decide it’s time to slow down and retire.
I’m not ready for that yet. Holy cow! This is fun, this is just what we do. I get to go out and four-wheel to check on cows, run a tractor, and ride a horse. When you’re doing what you love, it’s not work. It’s a good thing I love it because there’s no such thing as a forty-hour day.
As for the wind project, the wind turbines, there are folks in town who still complain they ruin their beautiful view of the mountain. We probably got more flack from local people than we did from anybody else.
Things have to change to make progress. And so, for me and my family, this wind project has been good for all of us. And in my opinion, it’s been good for our community.
I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Christine for well over a decade to expand clean, renewable energy in Utah.
We began our work together back in 2001, when she was running the renewable energy program for State of Utah Energy Office and served on our board of directors. Christine can work through complex and sometimes contentious issues with diverse stakeholders to achieve win-win solutions.
I am proud to know and work with Christine and her team to continue to accelerate the adoption of clean energy resources in Utah and throughout the West.
Utah’s wind power industry started in 2001 when Christine Watson Mikell joined the Utah Energy Office as an energy engineer after finishing her MBA. Christine was responsible for wind power and renewable energy (Nascent Technologies at the time). This included overseeing the state’s anemometer loaner program for Utah landowners and businesses interested in assessing the commercial viability of wind resources on their properties and required her to be out in the field in Utah’s rural communities erecting met towers and talking with local leaders about wind energy.
Cathy Hartman, a fellow marketing professor at Utah State University, and I met Christine in 2003 when we co-founded the “Utah Wind Working Group” with Sarah Wright of Utah Clean Energy to advance local wind power development. Cathy and I collaborated with Christine on marketing and outreach to build local awareness and support for wind power. Our goal was to make Utah attractive for wind developers.
Together, we organized conferences, presented to stakeholders, utility representatives, and policymakers (including the Utah State Legislature’s Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee), wrote educational articles about wind power for the Utah media, and crafted outreach campaign materials, including a successful “Wind Power Can Fund Schools” billboard campaign along I-15 that encouraged the legislature to pass some tax incentives for renewable energy in 2004. The billboards were later adopted by Wind Powering America for other states to foster support for wind power.
Christine worked tirelessly to advance wind power in those early years, wearing many hats, often with limited resources. She was bold and tenacious in her renewable energy advocacy as a state employee. In 2006, she went to work for a start-up, Wasatch Wind, which developed Utah’s first wind power project at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon, completed in 2008. Her years of government experience proved invaluable in the private sector. Indeed, Cathy and I witnessed firsthand many of the challenges Christine and her Wasatch Wind colleagues overcame that we documented in our film, “Wind Uprising,” about the Spanish Fork project co-produced with Michelle Nunez of GreenTech Films. Through this film, Christine’s story has been told hundreds of times across the country to educate other communities about the trials facing wind entrepreneurs and the solutions they discovered along the way.
After the Spanish Fork project, Christine became president of Wasatch Wind where she led the development of two additional projects in Utah and Wyoming. Christine has the grit and stamina to overcome hurdles and get projects done, even when they take years.
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 was 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, specifically, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.
Despite many challenges, Christine managed to convene the first wind conference in the state. It was very successful, drawing more than 300 participants, even though 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.
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, benefits and the positive economic impact of developing 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 a 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 the 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 throughout 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.
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.