There has been barely a whisper of information in Carroll County about plans by a Colorado company, Scout Clean Energy, to build the first wind farm to generate electricity in Arkansas.
“The 180 MW Nimbus project is estimated to expand over approximately 9,000 acres of rural Arkansas hill country,” states the company’s website. “Nimbus could potentially be the first wind project in Arkansas.”
The company said the project will produce 180 megawatts of power, offset 540,000 tons of carbon dioxide and employ 200 people during development and construction. The Scout Clean Energy website also contains information on 20 solar or wind projects it says are either planned or in operation across the country.
The project could be very significant if it proves wind power could be economical in Arkansas, and it could have a major beneficial impact on tax revenues for the county. However, Arkansas has not been considered a state suitable for efficient wind production.
“It seems like an unusual place to develop wind,” said Glen Hooks, director of Arkansas Sierra Club, which has been involved in successful lawsuits to close coal-fired power plants in the state. “Arkansas’ solar potential is well documented, and that industry is growing quickly, but we’ve generally been thought of as less than ideal for wind. I’ll be very interested to see details on projected wind energy potential in Carroll County.”
A representative of the company said the project is very preliminary, and Scout is not ready to release more information. The spokesperson said the company hopes to use the project to answer a request for proposals from Entergy Arkansas, which is seeking to add 500 megawatts of green power in Arkansas by 2026.
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Stormwater Pollution Prevention permits for Scout Clean Energy state that the excavation of pits, 60×60 feet and 7 feet deep, for wind turbine foundations occurred beginning in December 2016 on two separate private properties located about 2 miles apart just off Sims Point near Green Forest. Two foundations were dug on the eastern location on an unnamed dirt road 1.6 miles from the southern end of County Road 906.
One excavation was done at the western location on County Road 905, about 3.5 miles from the intersection of Arkansas 103 and County Road 905. The company said construction work has stopped, and any further work at the site will be performed under a new permit.
Dane Schumacher, a clean-water advocate who lives in southwestern Carroll County, said a review of the stormwater permit issued caused some concerns for him including using a runoff coefficient factor (used to convert rainfall amounts to runoff) for the city of Bentonville.
“I question the [its] use of the runoff coefficient … as most of Northwest Arkansas is in a highly karst region,” Schumacher said. A karst region is one made up of limestone in which rainwater seeps into the rock, eroding it.
“There is a high degree of variability from one site to the next,” he continued. “In other words, one size does not fit all. It is critically important that site-specific geologic investigations are performed and karst features, including losing streams, are identified prior to construction.”
An excerpt from the 2014 NWA Stormwater Manual illustrates his point: “Northwest Arkansas is in a highly karst region that has known environmentally sensitive habitats, so subgrade conditions should be carefully reviewed and be suspected as highly varied throughout an entire development of any significant size (over 1.00 acre). Soil and subgrade boring and/or testing would be methods for checking subgrade conditions.
“Because Northwest Arkansas has large areas of very ‘flat’ terrain as well as very large areas of extreme slopes, the location of each development site cannot always be approached with a ‘one size fits all’ attitude. Not reviewing the difficulties of pre-developed and adjoining terrains, runoff drainage ways, and how under-construction and the post-developed site will change both of these can have significant impacts on the life-expectancy and maintenance schedule of any Best Management Practices attempted to be used.”
Lin Welford of Carroll County was prominent in the successful efforts to shut down a confined animal feeding operation for hogs in the Buffalo National River watershed. She is concerned that the proposed wind farm — like the hog factory — would be sited in a karst area unsuited to this type of development.
“This scheme would cause unforeseen damage in an area of karst substrate, as it is too easy to disrupt subterranean water transmission, altering springs and caves, as well as impacting the beauty of our rural county,” Welford said. “The Ozarks do not need this kind of high-profile development.”
Recently, two people were convicted on charges of wire fraud and money laundering connected with a failed wind farm in Elm Springs (Washington County). That proposal had strong local opposition from people who were concerned about noise, vibrations, impacts to birds, and the potential need for construction of new high-voltage transmission lines.
Some green energy advocates prefer smaller, more efficient renewable power-generation systems instead of massive facilities requiring high-voltage transmission lines. Huge projects need to transport generated kilowatts long distances from where they are generated. Faith Shah of rural Carroll County, who was involved in opposing the Elm Springs wind farm, said it’s an inefficient model and has dramatic impacts on the tree canopy and water systems, especially in rural areas.
“It is oxymoronic to take out thousands of acres of trees to put in a high-voltage transmission line for green energy,” Shah said. “Trees are one of our best ways to combat climate change. They eat the carbon dioxide and give us back the oxygen that we breathe. Trees and water pollution are considered collateral damage to transmission lines.”
Shah was also involved in a successful citizen effort to prevent a proposed AEP-SWEPCO high-voltage transmission line in Northwest Arkansas, which would have destroyed more than 800 acres of trees. She and her husband have planted thousands of trees and installed solar panels that produce more electricity than they use for 10 months of the year.
“Decentralized power production including small, community-sized solar arrays … are the future,” Shah said.