A billionaire who made at least part of his fortune in the oil business is moving ahead with plans for a giant wind energy project in southern Wyoming that will, when completely built out, include 1,000 turbines with a total capacity of 3,000 megawatts. It would be the largest wind farm in North America.
CleanTechnica reports the project will be built in Carbon County, the second largest coal-producing county in Wyoming at the turn of the 19th century. It is the project of businessman Philip Anschutz, whose company, Anschutz Corporation, has been working on its plans since 2008.
The mammoth wind farm will be built on parts of a 320,000-acre cattle ranch owned by an Anschutz subsidiary called the Power Company of Wyoming (PCW). According to a statement posted at the PCW website, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved two wind energy sites on the property, called Chokecherry and Sierra Madre, in 2012. The wind farm will cover roughly a 50-50 split of private and federally owned property near the city of Rawlins.
The ranch is owned by the Overland Trail Cattle Company, which Anschutz bought in 1996. CleanTechnica said Anschutz was rumored to have put the ranch up for sale in 2005, but changed his mind when he got interested in wind energy. The following year, PCW had filed for right-of-way permits with the Bureau of Land Management.
Turbines will be located out of sight
The area where the project will be built has a rich potential for wind energy, showing up on maps published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in deep purples and red — part of a north-to-south band stretching from the Canadian border to north Texas with the highest wind potential in the country.
CleanTechnica says that the turbines have been sited so they won’t be visible from areas accessible to the public. The company had been considering turbines 328 feet tall, with blades 200 feet long, but final plans could call for something a little shorter.
Current plans call for the Bureau of Land Management to publish a draft environmental assessment later this year, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due with its draft environmental impact statement by the end of the year.
PCW said that the project would create between 300 and 400 construction jobs in the two years leading up to installation, and 1,200 jobs during the installation phase. Once the project is up and running, Clean Technica said, there would be 114 operations jobs. (The website points out this compares with 36 permanent jobs that would be created by the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.)
Protecting native bird population is a concern
One worry with such a massive project is its impact on the greater sage grouse, whose numbers have dropped from as many as 16 million birds in the early 19th century to an estimated 200,000 today, according to an article by E&E Publishing.
Its range includes 11 Western states, where it is threatened by residential growth, wildfires, livestock grazing, and energy development.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is studying the bird and must decide by September 30 whether to list it for protection under the Endangered Species Act. PCW is working with private and university consultants to study how wind projects will affect the birds. The Interior Department has already announced plans that would exclude millions of acres of land from wind development, and significantly limit it in less important habitat areas, E&E reported.
Regulators have assumed that grouse will avoid tall structures, such as the planned turbines, in an instinctual aversion to tall structures that can give raptors a place to perch. PCW is using data generated by finger-sized GPS trackers placed on 370 hens and male grouse to locate turbines in areas where grouse don’t seem to go.