On a blustery day in Arizona, thousands gathered at the commemoration of the state’s first wind farm. A group of local residents and Interior Department officials were there to celebrate an event that had once seemed unlikely if not impossible.
It all started when Bill Elkins got an idea. While on a trip to other Midwest states, he noticed their renewable energy projects and wondered why Arizona couldn’t do the same, “I traveled to Oklahoma and New Mexico, and to see the different wind farms and topography, I knew we had that.”
Bill lives in Navajo County, home to one of the largest Indian reservations in the U.S. He owns and operates the Rocking Chair Ranch. Families like Bill’s have been in ranching for over a hundred years, it’s one of the main industries in Navajo County. But as the years went by it was getting harder to make a living out of ranching and Bill didn’t want to lose his land.
A wind farm seemed the best solution, a way to take advantage of the vast stretches of land in the area and generate income. Despite the skepticism of some, Bill began researching his idea.
He bought towers and an anemometer to measure wind speed and strength while partnering with the University of Northern Arizona to help with research. “Seven years ago, we started our own testing, and the feasibility studies found there was availability,” Bill says.
Bill started taking his data to wind companies, convincing them to consider Navajo County for their next project. Soon, Iberdrola Renewables agreed to build the wind farm. For the first phase the company constructed 30 wind turbines that generate enough electricity to power about 15,000 homes.
Navajo County residents benefit as well. Landowners receive payments from Iberdrola Renewables for the use of their land, generating thousands of dollars in property tax revenue for Navajo County.
About 200 area jobs were created for the wind farm at the peak of construction, Bill says he’s happy to keep his land and continue his family’s ranch tradition, “The footprint has been small, and we’re able to keep my family in the cattle business. We don’t have to sell the land and we can still do what we want to do.”