The US is cementing its position as a global wind energy leader with another major milestone for the country’s largest wind farm ever, a 1,000-turbine behemoth planned for a mix of federal, state and, private land smack in the epicenter of US coal production, Wyoming. The question is, will incoming President Donald Trump let the project to go forward?
Although Trump is known for his love of coal miners and distaste for wind turbines, he is also known to be a fan of all things huge and this project certainly fits the bill. For bonus points, the new wind farm would enable President Trump to take yet another poke one of his favorite targets, China.
Huuuge Wind Energy Project Beats Keystone XL By A Mile
The new wind energy milestone is just the latest in a series of environmental gifts that the Obama Administration has left the nation in its final weeks, and it’s a big one.
CleanTechnica first checked out the project back in 2008, when word leaked out that Anschutz Corp. was preparing to build a 2,000 megawatt wind farm in Wyoming — and yes more specifically and super ironically that would be Carbon County, Wyoming.
By 2015 the massive wind farm was taking shape as a two phase, 1,000 turbine, 3,000 megawatt project of the Power Company of Wyoming, called the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project (CCSM Project).
The project comes with all the usual renewable energy bennies, as listed by the company:
- Provide zero-fuel-cost, zero-emissions electricity.
- Support national and regional renewable energy goals, such as state-mandated Renewable Portfolio Standards and greenhouse-gas reduction targets.
- Capture and leverage natural resources wisely and responsibly.
- Create thousands of construction jobs and an estimated 114 permanent operations and maintenance jobs.
- Contribute millions in property taxes and sales and use taxes, among other economic benefits.
So, did you catch that thing about 114 permanent O&M jobs? That’s almost three times the 39 permanent jobs estimated for the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.
In the latest news about the CCSM project, on Wednesday the Bureau of Land Management announced that it approved the site for the first 500 wind turbines.
That’s a key move because the project will be located on a patchwork of public and private land, about half of which is owned by millions of US citizens through the federal government. Turbines located on the other half of the land can’t be constructed without running roads through federal property, so the whole project has been waiting for a right-of-way permit.
The decision to move forward is supported by a determination by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which measured the potential impact of the project on the eagle population during construction and over the first five years of the project.
Although FWS anticipates a total of 11-17 bald and gold eagles killed annually by the turbines during that period, as part of the project Wyoming Power has committed to retrofitting its existing power poles to reduce eagle deaths from that source. The overall result projected by FWS should be a net gain for the eagle population.
The eagle issue is a good reminder that no energy project is free of impacts. In that regard it’s worth taking a look at studies of bird deaths linked to coal production and use.
When fully built out, the new wind project will dwarf any other single wind project on the boards, including several gigantic wind farms in the works for China.
Beating China seems to be a favorite pastime for President Trump, so there’s that.
Also, if President Trump would like to claim credit for more wind jobs in Wyoming, he better act fast.
Earlier this week, our friends over at Inside Climate News reported that state legislators in Wyoming are pushing for a bill that would hobble the state’s wind industry, by preventing the state’s utilities from purchasing wind energy for use in the state.
The new law would also apply to solar.
Here’s the rundown from Inside Climate News:
The new bill mandates utilities to use “eligible resources” to meet 95 percent of the state’s electricity needs in 2018 and then all of its power supply in 2019. Those sources are defined as coal, hydroelectric, natural gas, net metering sources (such as rooftop solar or backyard wind projects for homeowners and small business), nuclear and oil. Using power from utility-scale wind, solar and other renewable projects would be outlawed under this legislation.
Developers of the CCSM project seem to have anticipated this maneuver. The project was designed with the TransWest transmission project in mind, the final destination being California and other parts of the southwest.
In any case, political observers — and even the bill’s sponsors — don’t seem very confident that the bill will pass. It’s more of a statement, kind of like former Texas Governor Rick Perry publicly denying climate science while promoting clean energy development in Texas during his tenure.
Part of the lack of confidence may stem from the fact that Wyoming Power is a company under the Anschutz Corp. umbrella. The privately held company is based in Colorado but its principle, multi-billionaire Philip Anschutz, owns a massive ranch in Wyoming that encompasses the CCSM project site.
Despite his interest in wind energy, Anschutz has built a reputation as a social and political conservative and he was a major, as in bigly, donor to Republican candidates and party infrastructure during the 2016 cycle.
On the other hand, back in the 2016 primary campaign Anschutz joined a “secretive forum” including tech titans and top Republican legislators dedicated to stopping Trump’s run for the Republican presidential nomination.
That didn’t turn out so well and Trump’s love of retribution seems equal to his affinity for all things huge and taking credit for jobs that other people create, so let’s see where all this goes in the next few months.
Image (screenshot): via US Fish and Wildlife Service.