Advisor discusses wind energy locations at Wyoming wind symposium
Laramie – “We’re very certain of our regulatory uncertainty in Wyoming,” said Aaron Clark, Energy Infrastructure Advisor to Gov. Freudenthal and Wheatland rancher at the Governor’s early August Wind Energy Symposium.
He said there are four factors that determine where wind energy will be developed in the state.
“One is where the economically developable winds are in the state – they’re not everywhere, and some places they’re prolific. Second is the location of new transmission hubs. We haven’t talked about how critical the collector systems are,” he explained. “Sage grouse are now a very big factor in determining where wind goes, and last is the public acceptance of wind.”
Clark said the best winds are in the Laramie Range in Laramie and Albany counties, as well as Platte, Converse and Natrona. “Rawlins and Elk Mountain don’t have as much superb wind, but a lot that’s economically developable, the same is true for the Sierra Madres. We’re also seeing proposals in the Green and Ferris mountain ranges in northern Carbon and southern Fremont counties,” he said.
However, he said those last two are more remote and removed from energy transmission proposals.
“There’s an extensive amount of wind in northern Converse County, in the Cheyenne River Divide country,” he continued. “There’s also good quality winds in the Wind Rivers and Big Horns, and I feel for the first person who proposes a project up there.”
In regard to ongoing leasing and proposed projects, Clark said there are some proposals near Rock Springs, but only for small projects. The other project is the Pathfinder Project, which includes good quality wind in southeast Fremont, southwest Natrona and northern Carbon counties.
“The most active site for projects is from Rawlins east to Medicine Bow, Hanna and Rock River, which have good quality wind but also the biggest conflict with wildlife resources,” he said.
“Platte, Goshen and northern Laramie counties have the most overlooked resource in the state,” said Clark. “The quality is very good, and the wind is prolific, but it’s also most removed from the western load centers, which are driving siting right now.”
“Sage grouse are an issue that’s confused the wind industry immensely. We’ve actively sought clarification from the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding sage grouse and wind development, and we got that clarification,” said Clark, referring to the FWS directive that no wind development should occur in sage grouse core areas.
“In 2002 the state started to develop this core area strategy as a regulatory mechanism to justify that this bird doesn’t need to be listed in the state and to demonstrate we had in place a regulatory mechanism that would ensure the viability of the species,” explained Clark. “That’s where we were shortest in the state.”
“We provided specific guidance for mining, agriculture and oil and gas, but not wind. Wind was not even in the cards,” he continued. “The bottom line now is pretty simple and straightforward – if we in the state approve a wind project in a sage grouse core area, that would lead to listing.”
Clark said the concept of core areas is sound, because while sage grouse range throughout the state, it’s believed that 80 percent of the state’s birds can be managed in core areas.
“Right now over 86 percent of coal production is within the range of sage grouse, but only four percent is within sage grouse core areas,” said Clark. “In natural gas production, 83 percent is within the bird’s range, but only two percent is in core areas.”
Clark encouraged the wind community to get out and help develop the research regarding development and sage grouse. “It’s in their and our best interest to come up with good numbers we can use to manage sage grouse in wind development,” he said.
“These management prescriptions and decisions by no means shut the door on wind development in the state,” stated Clark. “It may shuffle it around a little bit, but we still have a lot more opportunity for wind in this state than we’ll ever have demand for. “
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.