Wind proposal lacks connections

Utilities say planners have not applied to join power grid

The developers of a proposed wind farm west of Springdale haven't taken the first steps to hitch onto the region's grid and start providing electricity to Northwest Arkansas' primary power providers, utility representatives said last week.

Dragonfly Industries International, which for the past year has pushed to build a wind power facility in Elm Springs, has had only fleeting discussions with the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. and Southwestern Electric Power Co., utility representatives said.

Dragonfly also hasn't applied to the Southwest Power Pool, an umbrella organization that oversees and coordinates the flow of electricity across 14 states, which is an essential step to make sure the region's grid can accept whatever power the wind plant generates.

"We talked to them a few times, and what we have done primarily is direct them to the Southwest Power Pool," said Peter Main with Southwestern Electric. "What we've done is be sure that they have the contacts they needed. Any project like that, we would provide that guidance."

The Arkansas Electric Cooperative, which includes the Ozarks and Carroll co-ops in Washington and Benton counties, had one preliminary conversation with Dragonfly early this year, spokesman Sandra Byrd said.

The Dragonfly project would use an unusual shrouded turbine design. Proponents say that rings modeled after airline jets will focus air, spin more quietly and be less likely to kill birds than the standard, three-blade towers used in much of the Midwest. Company officials said the wind farm would provide 80 megawatts of capacity, enough for several thousand homes, even with Arkansas' relatively calm winds.

In and around Elm Springs, opponents argue that the technology is untested and unproven at full, real-world scale. Opponents also said Dragonfly Chief Executive Officer Jody Davis and spokesman Cody Fell's history of crimes involving money in the past decade, including embezzlement by Davis and hot check violations by both, only reinforce their belief that the project isn't feasible.

In an email, Davis has said he paid the price for his mistakes and has grown past them. He hasn't returned several email and phone messages in the past three weeks requesting comment on the project's status or on agreements with local utilities. Fell hasn't responded to phone messages during the same time period.

Byrd said the co-ops in the region are interested in wind power and other renewable energy sources. Arkansas' electricity comes mostly from coal and natural gas, but Southwestern Electric and the co-ops also purchase wind power generated in Oklahoma and elsewhere, much of it pumped through the Southwest Power Pool.

"We're always open to new project proposals," Byrd said. "It would depend on where the wind is located and what the price was. Low cost is a very big priority for us."

The Arkansas Electric Cooperative seeks specific projects with requests for proposals, and it also waits for developers to approach it directly, Byrd added.

"Generally these wind companies have marketing agencies associated with them that will reach out to utilities in that transmission grid area," she said. Dragonfly executives haven't publicly named any affiliated marketing agency.

Southwestern Electric normally sends out requests for proposals for any addition to its power sources, Main said. The company has no pending requests.

The Southwest Power Pool scrutinizes wind power projects and other power facilities to find out whether the grid can absorb their electricity and can withstand losing it in the event of something going wrong, said Antoine Lucas, the organization's director of engineering planning.

No generating facility can join the power pool's facilities or energy market without passing those studies, he said.

"We're just trying to make sure that when that generation resource interconnects with the system, that it can do so in a reliable and safe fashion," he said.

For example, the power pool released a study last month on Duke Energy's 200-megawatt wind project in north Oklahoma. The study includes specific details on its capacity, turbine models and the exact locations where the project will hitch onto the grid.

Duke Energy didn't publicly announce the project until last week after the study was released, according to The Oklahoman newspaper.

Neither Dragonfly nor its subsidiary, Arkansas Wind Power, appear in the power pool's online lists of active requests or studies done in 2015.

Elm Springs residents are scheduled to vote next year on the deannexation of the project's 300-acre site, and the Elm Springs City Council plans to discuss the rezoning of the land at its meeting Dec. 21.

Metro on 12/07/2015