Carbon County celebrates, ponders wind future

CARBON COUNTY, WYOMING - As a hot spot in Wyoming's fast-growing wind energy industry, Carbon County held a "Celebration of Wind" to explore the potential economic benefits and environmental considerations of an influx of wind farms.

The county is already home to several wind farms. And with a national emphasis on renewable energy, droves of developers are measuring wind conditions throughout the rugged deserts and hills with an eye toward putting up power-generating turbines.

David Throgmorton, executive director of the Carbon County Higher Education Center, organized the symposium to bring knowledgeable speakers to the community and give developers a chance to explain their projects.

"The wind turbines are going to change the horizon and people really need to know what that's going to do," Throgmorton said. "They need to either buy into it or they need to understand why it's important."

Throgmorton said he welcomes thoughtful wind development and the possibility of new jobs.

"We have a working class labor force here in Carbon County," he said. "This is not a community that has traditionally put a high value on education, but they put a high value on good, hard vocational type work, and those are the kind of jobs we really need in Carbon County."

Wyoming ranks 13th in the nation for its existing wind capacity, and seventh for its potential wind resources, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Jonathan Naughton, director of the University of Wyoming's Wind Energy Research Center, said Wyoming is poised to move up the list of wind producers. The state is rich with high-quality winds, available land, transportation infrastructure and access to markets.

"If you want to make money, you want to put your turbines, which are a fixed cost, in the very best wind-producing areas to produce the most energy for your investment," Naughton said. "It's all those factors kind of combining in a perfect storm. Right now is the right time for Wyoming."

There are numerous wind farms in the works in Carbon County, the largest of which is Power Company of Wyoming's Choke Cherry/Sierra Madre project. The Bureau of Land Management is currently conducting an environmental impact study of the proposal, which would place up to 1,000 turbines on a mix of private and public land south of Rawlins.

Jerry Hamel, a semi-retired night watchman at the sawmill in Saratoga, attended the event. He said he sees wind energy as the "the future" for the area and doesn't have any concerns about it.

"I think people with open minds will go for it," he said. "I think people looking into the future will go for it."

Others sounded a cautionary note. Erik Molvar, executive director of the Laramie-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, presented his group's study of environmental concerns related to wind development. The study's considerations included raptors, bats, sage grouse, wildlife and scenic places.

Molvar said the group recommends that the state should promote southeast Wyoming for wind farms and transmission lines, because of its strong winds and relatively few environmental conflicts.

"In order to take advantage of this clean, renewable resource in a way that maintains your community's stability and maintains the landscapes that we all love, maintains your wildlife populations, maintains your Wyoming way of life, it's important to plan and figure out how to do wind power right from the start," he said.


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