Either it’s just plain coincidence or a slap in the face of fossil fuels, but doesn’t it figure that the largest wind farm in North America will be built in Carbon County, Wyoming? Well, it does. If all goes according to plan, the billionaire US businessman Philip Anschutz will be the proud owner of two 500-turbine wind farms in — oh, the irony — Carbon County, Wyoming. At a price tag of $5 billion, together they’ll have generating capacity of 3,000 megawatts or enough to supply almost 900,000 homes. Wowsers, that’s a lot of wind, especially for a guy who made his fortune partly in oilfields.
Where Did This Gigantic Wind Farm Come From?
When you think of wind and billionaires these days, you almost automatically think of Warren Buffett (or, alternatively, Donald Trump). However, Anschutz has been working on the Wyoming wind farm projects since at least 2008, when CleanTechnica noted that his namesake company, the Anschutz Corp., had acquired the rights to the proposed TransWest Express transmission line.
At the time, the project was described as a 2,000 megawatt wind farm to be built partly on Anschutz’s own ranch.
Fast forward to last year, and CleanTechnica was calling it a 500 square mile, 3,000 megawatt wind farm topping out at $8 billion, presumably including the cost of the transmission line.
Wind Power & The Power Company of Wyoming, LLC
When we said that Anschutz would be the proud owner of the largest wind farm in North America, that was shorthand for ownership through the Power Company of Wyoming LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Anschutz Corp., so let’s turn to a page at the PCW website for the rest of the details.
Back in 2012, PCW obtained a decision from the Department of the Interior that approved two nearby locations for wind energy development, Sierra Madre and Chokecherry.
According to PCW, and as illustrated by the map above, the site consists of about half public and half private land, including parts of a 320,000 acre tract owned by the The Overland Trail Cattle Company (TOTC). A working cattle ranch, the TOTC property encompasses the Sierra Madre part of the project.
Anschutz owns the TOTC property, which he bought in 1996 through his oilfield company, Anschutz Exploration. In 2005, he was rumored to have it up for sale, but apparently he caught the wind energy bug and decided to stay on.
By 2006, PCW was filing applications for right-of-way permits with the Bureau of Land Management for wind energy site testing.
More to the point, Wyoming happens to have some of the best wind resources in the US, and according to PCW, Anschutz’s ranch has some of the best wind in Wyoming.
At one point, PCW was considering wind turbines of about 328 feet tall, with blades up to 200 feet long. Considering how quickly tall wind turbine technology is advancing, it’s possible that the final design could go taller.
On the other hand, the wind turbines have been sited to avoid visibility from public access areas, so it’s possible that when it comes down to selecting a turbine vendor, PCW could lop a few feet off the final height.
Further complicating matters is figuring out where to put 1,000 wind turbines without spooking the sage grouse who call the area home.
However, the project appears to be progressing smoothly along its timeline. The latest update targets the second half of this year for the Bureau of Land Management to publish the draft Site-Specific EA2 for Phase I wind turbines (each of the sites will be built out in two phases).
The company also expects the US Fish and Wildlife Service will publish its Draft EIS some time before the end of this year.
As for the “Carbon” in Carbon County, the location of the soon-to-be largest wind farm in North America in that county is more than ironic, it’s a foundational illustration of the US transition out of coal.
According to WyoHistory.org, the name Carbon does refer to the county’s rich coal mining past. At the turn of the 19th century, Carbon County was the second-largest coal-producing county in Wyoming, though it dropped off considerably throughout the 20th century.
The Powder River Basin is currently Wyoming’s best-known coal region, but it looks like trouble is brewing there, too.
An article published just last week by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis cites two railroad executives who predict that Powder River coal will be history sooner rather than later.
Speaking of the demise of fossil fuels, while backers of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline continue to tout the benefits of the notorious project, the Anschutz/PCW wind farm projects blows away the pipeline in terms of job creation.
Keystone XL, which would bring tar sands crude from Canada down through the heartland of the US to refineries on the Gulf Coast, is expected to result in about three dozen permanent US jobs.
According to PCW, the new wind farm project will create up to 300-400 construction jobs in the initial two-year pre-installation phase. When it’s time to install the wind turbines, there will be up to 1,200 jobs. Once the project is up and running, PCW anticipates at least 114 direct operations jobs.
If all this is starting to ring some bells, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre sites were included in President Obama’s 2012 list of seven significant renewable energy projects that create new infrastructure and new jobs, foreshadowing the Administration’s more recent steamroller-style environmental initiatives.
Image: Courtesy of PCW.
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