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World’s Tallest Structure

Coming To Arizona Border?

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An artist's conceptual drawing of one of the downdraft towers being considered for the town of San Luis, Ariz., on the Arizona border with Mexico.

View San Luis Downdraft project in a larger map
Clean Wind Energy Has Received Approval From San Luis’ Planning Commission, The First Step In Construction Of Two, 3,000-Foot High Downdraft Energy Towers


By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

May 7, 2012 — Renewable energy might not be the biggest issue in the country today, but that definitely does not mean that no one is thinking big.

In fact, a renewable energy project has moved through some preliminary rezoning steps in the town of San Luis, Ariz. — adjacent to the border with Mexico — that might result in the construction of the tallest buildings ever built with the result a renewable energy project that could power millions of homes.

Now that is some initiative.

And it just might be a project that Clean Wind Energy —a company that grew from a mining concern and has virtually no capital behind it — might be able to catch magic in a bottle and bring to fruition. Or, it could be another in a long line of boondoggles that has plagued the renewable-energy industry.

The idea is to build two 3,000-foot-tall downdraft towers that will create power for millions by cooling super hot and dry desert air with water from the Gulf of Cortez and forcing that air through a plethora of turbines. The biggest man-made structure in the world is the 2,723-foot-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In contrast, the Empire State Building in New York City is a mere 1,250 feet tall.

Some may call it crazy, but the science has been done — although nothing has ever been built.

The concept for downdraft towers were first patented by Dr. Philip Carlson in 1975. The idea was expanded upon by Professor Dan Zaslavsky and Dr. Rami Guetta from the Israel Institute of Technology in 2001. The team estimated that downdraft towers would provide costs in the range of 1 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour, which is below other alternative energy sources with the exception of hydroelectric power.

The most simplistic explanation of the concept is water is sprayed on hot air at the top of the hollow tower, making the cooled air fall and drive a turbine at the tower's bottom. The air picks up energy as it rushes down the cylinder’s interior, reaching speeds of up to 50 mph. The result is electricity with virtually no CO2 or other greenhouse-gas emissions. Wind vanes might also be incorporated into the exterior to capture natural wind energy.

The dry desert surrounding the Arizona border with Mexico is so attractive not only because of close access to non-drinkable sea water via the Sea of Cortez — that will have to go through desalination in order to decrease corrosion — but also because of the extremely high temperatures. Clean Wind Energy is currently negotiating with the Mexican government in order to get the approval to use water from the Sea of Cortez. The hotter and drier the air at the top, the more wind speed to spin the generators.

The project basically creates a constant, compact, wind source.

Each downdraft tower, as currently planned, would be capable of generating as much as 2,500 megawatts per hour of electricity with one-third of the energy used to run the tower, making a net of about 1,500 megawatts available for sale on the grid. Clean Wind Energy claims both towers would be able to provide power for 3.2 million homes.

Anticipated cost to construct the towers is expected to be about $5 billion and the resulting facility would employ 1,000 workers.

Clean Wind Energy did not return calls or emails from Modern Times Magazine. Ron Pickett, CEO of Clean Wind Energy and the driving force behind the company, is a former chairman of Digital Angel Corp., a former vice chairman of Geeks On Call, and a co-founder of Telkonet, Inc. He joined with some other folks who began Clean Wind Energy from what remained of Superior Silver Mines in 2010 and quickly began planning the development of a downdraft tower project.

Although the company has been able to pass some preliminary hurdles with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — which has given permission for the company to seek a lease and OK’d the city of San Luis to begin a rezoning process. Clean Wind Energy’s stock price, however, has plummeted from 32 cents in 2011 to 4 cents today. At this point in the planning phase, funding has not yet been identified.

Although Clean Wind Energy and Pickett did not answer queries from Modern Times Magazine, the city of San Luis made their file on the project available.

It reveals that very few, if any, of the stakeholders in the region seem overly excited about the project.

The Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp. pulled no punches in providing its recommendation.

“The Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp., has some concerns with the environmental impacts the project may have referring to water consumption. The company also does not cite any prior projects that would validate categorizing the technology as “proven.” The climate of financing is today’s sustainable energy market is very stringent as it pertains to backing proven vs. unproven technologies. We do not oppose the project, but think they a there are some environmental impacts that need to be further examined along with the technology's employment history,” according to the group’s statement to the city of San Luis.

Likewise, the Marine Corps Naval Station in Yuma is very interested to know what sort of nearly invisible power lines will be running from the world's two largest buildings. The station is about 20 miles northeast of the tentative site of the towers and Yuma International Airport is not very far away from the station. All of the local aviation stakeholders also suggested that notification be provided to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“With the current level of information, this project appears that it could have a negative impact on flight operations for Yuma International Airport and Rolle Field,” according to a statement from the Yuma County Airport Authority.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department also expressed concerns for the flat-tailed horned lizard and the Yuman desert fringe-toed lizard as well as for hydrologic concerns.

Disregarding all of the negative recommendations, the planning commission approved the rezoning matter and sent it along to the San Luis City Council which is also expected to approve the rezoning May 9.

Perhaps the reason the city has moved forward despite a litany of question marks is because the rezoning that will be before the city council May 9 only pertains to the western half of the potential site. The eastern half of the site will be addressed later in 2012, and will include major amendments to the city’s general plan and then further rezoning. The city’s development director, Sharon Williams, recommended approval of the rezoning because it is consistent with the current general plan.

But in her report, she also admitted many unanswered questions — but that the promise of the benefits of the plant should not stop the project in the first stage.

“There are many unanswered questions concerning the specifics of the project, its timeline and impact on San Luis (both pro and con),” Williams wrote. “Those conditions will be dealt with in the conditional-use permit and variance applications.”

John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.
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