Windmills, old and new, focus of two-state tour

By Jim Stafford

Business Writer

BLUE CANYON WIND FARM - Seth Davidson stood atop a mesa 700 feet above the valley and braced himself against a steady 30 mph wind.

Above him, spread across the hilltop, 45 massive wind turbines rotated as they generated up to 1.6 megawatts of electricity each, silent except for the “swoosh” produced with each rotation.

Below him was a vast landscape that is part of what Davidson calls the American Wind Power Trail.

It is a 1,200-mile long tour of both vintage and high-tech windmills that winds through northern Texas and much of central and western Oklahoma.

“It wasn't the six-gun that settled the West, it was the windmill,” Davidson told about 50 people who explored the Blue Canyon Wind Farm along State Highway 19 about 25 miles north of Lawton.

Thursday's tour for tourism officials and media members was co-hosted by Zilkha Renewable Energy, the developer and operator of the wind farm, and Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, which buys all of the electricity generated by the wind turbines.

Davidson made an enthusiastic pitch for the American Wind Power Trail, which begins in Granbury, Texas, west of Fort Worth. The trail runs through southwestern Oklahoma to Norman, west to Elk City and through Woodward and Shattuck before plunging into the Texas Panhandle down through Lubbock, ending in San Angelo in west central Texas.

The trail's mission, he said, is to “get visitors to rural communities,” along with a number of other purposes.

Davidson operates Inc. based in the tiny Texas Panhandle community of Miami (population 588). He describes Wildsteps as a promoter of nature and heritage tourism.

Davidson's interest in promoting the preservation of vintage windmills throughout the region, combined with the appeal of the modern-day, energy-generating version, led to the Wind Power Trail idea. He sold it to both Texas and Oklahoma tourism officials.

“The fact that this is the first cooperative tourism venture between Texas and Oklahoma is an amazing landmark,” he said.

Officials with Anadarko-based Western Farmers Electric Cooperative were pleased to have its Blue Canyon Wind Farm included on the tour, said Carl Liles, director of enterprise management for the cooperative.

“It really coupled well with our mission here at Blue Canyon,” Liles said. “We saw Wind Trails as an opportunity to promote tourism in the areas that our 19 electric distribution cooperatives serve.”

The event gave Liles a chance to tell the tourism and media audience about the advantages wind powered generation brings to the energy business and the state.

“This project is really good for our member owners in terms of economics,” he said. “It's also really good for the community in terms of tourism and it's also very good for the environment,” he said. “Those are noble causes, we think.”

Oklahoma Corporation Commission member Denise Bode was among those who joined at least part of the tour. Bode said wind generation of electricity is a good fit for Oklahoma.

“It's part of our heritage in Oklahoma, and taking the next step is only natural, now that the technology is affordable,” she said. “It's reliable, affordable electricity. In the digital economy, that's what people are worried about.”

Davidson said the reputation that Oklahoma has earned for the fierce winds that come sweeping down the plains shouldn't be taken as a negative.

“Without the wind, this part of America would have never been settled,” he said. “With the wind, this part of America stands at the cutting edge of renewable energy development.”

(This story, which appeared in the Friday, August 6, 2004Edition of The Daily Oklahoman was published with their permission.)

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