Winds That Out-Blow Any Other Gusts in the Country

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Bill Sniffin

Although local Wyomingites are not surprised by this fact, out-of-staters are always stunned by the velocity of our wind. It is scary powerful.And it is probable that our wind is cursed more often than it is viewed as a blessing.

But when it comes to the future of renewable energy in America, Wyoming’s abundant, cool afternoon winds are viewed as a gold mine.And one of the biggest prospectors in this modern day gold rush is an incredibly patient Denver billionaire with some Wyoming history.

Phil Anschutz has been trying to get the country’s biggest wind turbine project built for the past nine years and it is still stalled by regulations and environmental studies. All these cautions might guarantee that this most-environmental friendly project in the country may never come to fruition.  

If there ever was a project that deserved a fast track from the feds, this could be it.  But that is not meant to be.  Anschutz might as well be building a coal-fired power plant or even a nuclear plant.

The plan calls for a 500-windmill project in phase one that would transport electricity along a proposed power line from Wyoming to California.

California people have also been wondering what the holdup is with this project that long ago was designed to provide green clean energy for them.

A media outfit called Pacific Standard sent reporter Gabriel Kahn to find out.His story focused on Greybull native Bill Miller who has worked at the 500-square mile property in Carbon County called the Overland Trail Ranch. It was Miller who first took notice of the ever-present monstrous winds that blew every afternoon. 

Wyoming’s afternoon winds are of high value to California power brokers because power is generated here at the same time that it is needed the most out west.

Some years ago, a map of Wyoming was distributed which showed the highest wind rates across the state.  The highest areas were in the Laramie Peak area.  Alsoalong an area paralleling Interstate 80.

It seems that not just Union Pacific trains and huge semi trailer trucks follow that Interstate 80 route – but brisk winds do, as well.Of course, we all know that.  Most anyone who has driven that Interstate has horror stories to recall.

Anschutz’s horror stories are of environmental regulation issues.  He hired squads of observers because there was fear that the 32-story high windmills with their 200-foot long blades would obliterate eagles.  Some wind farm owners across the country have been fined large amounts and treated like criminals because of eagle kills. Few eagles were even spotted here, though.

The Pacific Standard article included some very interesting insights, including:

“Roxane Perruso, the project’s general counsel went to an American Wind Energy Association convention where someone asked her how big the farm would be. Being modest, she responded that it was over 2,000 megawatts. ‘He put his hand on my shoulder, sighed, and said, Oh, sweetheart, I think you’re confused— you must mean 200 megawatts.’

“Confused, no. Audacious, yes. The wind farm, which Miller named the Power Company of Wyoming, would be so big that the construction phase would amount to a modern version of pyramid building. Just getting the first 500 turbines up and running would take two years. To get around the fact that the turbines were too large to bring in via standard 18-wheelers on the public roads, Miller’s engineers drew up a plan to build a two-mile rail spur leading to the ranch from the old Union Pacific rail line. Trains 100 cars long would haul the first batch of turbines to a special staging area where they would be unloaded.

“From there, they’d be moved into place along the ranch’s ridges and bluffs via 500 miles of newly constructed access roads. To build the roads, the engineers would first have to dig out limestone and gravel from a quarry on the ranch. Rural Wyoming lacks the manpower for such an endeavor, so workers would have to re-locate to the area. The project called for building a ‘man camp’ with up to 500 beds and an RV park that could handle 250 trailers.”

The ultimate bad news for Anschutz in all this is that these regulatory delays could cause the project to be much smaller than envisioned.  So much green power is now being generated by local California resources, the obvious need for Wyoming wind power of just a few years ago may not be as acute today.

 

 

Please “like” Wyoming Books and Columns by Bill Sniffin on Facebook. Other information available at www.billsniffin.com and www.wyomingwonders.com. Sniffin is a long-time Wyoming journalist and lives in Lander.