GOSHEN COUNTY – In real estate, as the old saw goes, it’s all about one thing.
“Location, location, location.”
It’s something like that when talking about generating electrical power from wind.
“There are two things we look at when considering an area for wind farm development,” Aron Branam, senior development project manager for EDP Renewables North America, said during a June interview with The Telegram. “First is a good wind resource, which Wyoming and Goshen County has.”
EDP Renewables is looking at locating a wind-power generating farm in Goshen County sometime in the future. The company met with county planners and commissioners in May and is currently working through the particulars of such a project with the Goshen County Economic Development Corp., said GCEDC CEO Ashley Harpstreith recently.
But what’s involved in using Wyoming’s abundant wind resources to power modern life? That was one of the questions local representatives hoped to have answered during a visit Friday with officials with Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp, at the company’s wind power control center in Casper.
“We do have entities interested in wind power here,” Harpstreith said. “To understand the nature of it, the capacity, just how big a project (RMP) are was kind of mind blowing. Once you get next to those big windmills, they’re huge.”
RMP currently operates a 14,000-acre wind farm north of Glenrock on the site of a former, reclaimed coal mining operation that once fed the furnaces of the nearby Dave Johnson generating station. With 158 towers generating 237 megawatts, the Glenrock wind farm generates enough electrical energy to power some 66,000 average American homes for a year.
The proposed Goshen County project, dubbed Buffalo Bluff, was first conceived by the then-Horizon Wind Energy company in 2006. That company was sold in 2007 to EDP Renewables and, in 2011, rebranded into EDP North America, the entity pursuing the project here.
Branam said the Buffalo Bluff project is projected as a 100 to 300 megawatt production facility. As of June, there wasn’t a set date for construction to begin, he said. But the project must start building by 2020 to take advantage of current production tax credits that make generating electricity using renewable resources even more attractive – and profitable.
The company already has lease agreements for the project with Goshen County landowners. Harpstreith wouldn’t specify precisely where in the county the wind farm may go in the future, but she would say that, while there is support for the Buffalo Bluff plant, there’s also been some push-back from others who don’t want the wind farm in their back yard.
“The main complaint we’ve had as county commissioners is the fancy word – View Scape,” said Carl Rupp, chair of the Goshen County Commission. “Those people on the ranches who love to see the wide-open spaces don’t like to see it ruined with those wind towers.
“But there are places where it won’t bother anybody’s view,” he said. “Up close, (the wind towers) are kind of impressive, to me. And there are groups of landowners in Goshen County who are in favor of this kind of thing.”
The overall impact on the environment, beyond the perception of aesthetics, is minimal, said Laine Anderson, director of wind operations for Rocky Mountain Power, and Gary McCarty, RMP’s lead engineer at the Casper control center. Once built, for example, wind generating facilities have virtually zero carbon footprint.
At 14,000 acres, the Glenrock facility cuts a 12-mile swath, north to south, about 1.5 miles wide from the Wyoming countryside. Of that 14,000, about 700 acres is taken up by office and warehouse facilities and 52 miles of roads that allow technicians to travel between the towers.
Each tower actually takes up only about one-quarter acre of actual land, or less than 40 acres of the total area of the Glenrock facility. The remaining 13,200-plus acres of the facility – as well as the free space at similar facilities around the state and around the country – stay available to the landowners for grazing or crop farming, Anderson said.
“At our wind plant in Washington (County), Ore., landowners grow their crops right up to the towers,” he said. “In the Northern Range, it’s open range. Producers have sheep and cattle grazing right up to the towers.”
“And the great thing about wind generation is it doesn’t need water,” McCarty said. “Every other type of power plant utilizes water.”
About the only physical limitation on the number of turbine towers that can be erected per acre is making sure they’re far enough apart so turbulence from one doesn’t impact the ones down-wind, Anderson and McCarty said.
One downside to a Goshen County project would be its position near the eastern edge of the western electrical grid, they said. That could limit the potential markets for locally-produced electricity because it’s cost prohibitive to transmit power between the western and eastern grids.
But Branam with EDP Renewables said in June the proximity of Denver to the south, for example, and other growing Front Range communities could provide a ready market for a Goshen County generating plant.
Rocky Mountain Power believes so strongly in the future of wind generation in Wyoming the company is launching at $3.5 billion project to upgrade and increase generating capacity on a majority of its almost 700 turbines across Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. And that bodes well for the future of any wind-generating facility to be placed in Goshen County.
“I think we have to move in that direction (toward renewable sources of energy),” Rupp said. “Everybody is so concerned about things, health-wise.”
Both Rupp and Harpstreith acknowledged the presence of a “minerals-mindset” in Wyoming, based on the energy-production history of the state. That, too, may represent a portion of the apparent reticence of some to open their arms to a wind-generating facility in Goshen County.
“All of Wyoming has a different mindset, being mineral based,” Harpstreith said. “When we think of energy development, we think right-off-the-bat of the traditional sources we’ve used in the past.”
But that would mean refusing to look into the future.
“It sure doesn’t hurt to look at other things,” Rupp said. “If we’d stopped when we invented the wheel, we probably wouldn’t have cars.”