Salt Lake City — With so much coal and oil around Salt Lake valley - to say nothing of tar sands - it is hard to believe that wind power could get off the ground here.
But inventor Laird B. Gogin thinks he has just the contraption to give the wind-energy industry a lift.
Tall sails are placed on special cars which roll around a large oval track. The sails catch the wind, pushing the cars and generating electricity in the wheels.
That is the basic idea, and Mr. Gogin claims the device catches about 10 times more wind than conventional windmills. ''The sails intersect better with the wind,'' he says.
Two utilities have turned down Mr. Gogin's idea, but the Western Area Power Administration, an arm of the federal government, has agreed to buy power at a guaranteed price from 11 such devices - if he can build them, at an estimated cost of $253 million in all.
Blueprints show each device consisting of 15 cars carrying 200-foot-high airfoils on a half-mile oval track. Placed at the bottom of canyons where winds average about 18 miles an hour, says Mr. Gogin, the device could generate 80 megawatts or about one-tenth of a nuclear reactor.
To help finance the project, he has designed a smaller version for homes or businesses, costing $450,000 each and producing 200 kilowatts. Last year he made 17, several of them already sold in southern California.
Utah officials, however, are skeptical. ''It's still a wild dream,'' says state energy director James Bryne.