Friday, December 18, 2009

Wind Energy Meets Environmental Resistance in Wyoming...From the Fossil Fuel Industry

They can't be serious.  High Country News reports about a bizarre combination of resistance that wind energy is running into in Wyoming:

(Wyoming's wind energy) faltering. Today, Wyoming has just 1,000 megawatts of wind capacity, one-eighth of what Texas has. Facing regulatory and political uncertainty, at least one wind-farm proposal has been yanked off the table, and the future of others is in doubt. Legislators, wildlife officials and people in the governor's office have sent out increasingly mixed messages about the wind rush -- or onslaught.

It is, indeed, confusing. Because most of the objections to wind farms cite environmental problems, it might appear that Wyoming has finally gone green -- standing up to energy developers in hopes of preserving its wild lands. And many environmentalists do see wind as yet another "clean" energy source with a dark side -- like hydroelectric dams or coalbed methane, which has transformed swaths of the state into drill-rig pincushions.

Look closer, however, and you'll find that much of the resistance to wind actually comes from the fossil fuel industry and the politics it bankrolls. Wyoming is the largest coal producer in the nation and the third-largest producer of natural gas; at least one town is named after an oil company. Severance taxes and royalties from these industries keep the state's government, schools and other services afloat. In an indirect and sometimes convoluted way, wind threatens that old-school energy dynamic. At an August symposium on wind energy at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Aaron Clark, an advisor to the governor, put it candidly: "We can't let wind development hurt the state's revenue stream from extractive minerals."

The conflict manifests itself in two unlikely and disparate characters: The oil-baron scion of one of Wyoming's most influential families, and a chicken-sized bird that may soon be listed as endangered. Wyoming's politics, tumbled by the wind, have become almost as peculiar as the state's mammalian icon, the mythical jackalope.

This is one of those situations where the Federal government (and/or perhaps some appropriate NGO's) need to have a transition program in place to help states and communities that depend on fossil fuel revenues work through these types of roadblocks to clean energy development.

As far as impacts on endangered Sage Grouse, there's got to be a capacity to use GIS maps of the species' habitats that planners can use to avoid placing wind farms in areas where they could threaten the beautiful fowl.

There is a right way to proliferate wind farms in an appropriate state like Wyoming, from an environmental standpoint.  It is the right thing to do, and done in an ecologically sound manner, we just have to move forward with these types of climate change and clean energy solutions.

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