Tattoos, according to Jimmy Buffet, can be a “permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.” Will wind energy development in Wyoming be the tattoo our future generations lament?
Once the headiness of construction spending is long gone, the projected tax revenues prove inadequate and ongoing maintenance employment is very low, will we or our great-grandkids wonder if we “severed” enjoyment of our spectacular landscape without enough compensation?
The Wyoming wind rush is on: Several new transmission lines are being constructed and many wind farm permit applications and approvals are in the works. The largest wind farm in the nation — and the world — will be the 1,000-turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which is being constructed between Rawlins and Saratoga. Built by a Colorado corporation (ironically named Power Company of Wyoming) and owned by billionaire entrepreneur Philip Anschutz, this is the farm where we have traded the historic landscape of the Overland Trail to export energy to California.
Next in line, a Venezuelan-tied company, Viridis Eolia, along with its Chinese-owned partner and construction behemoth, Goldwing Americas, wants to build 748 giant turbines in our Shirley Basin. These are more turbines than we have in all of Wyoming now and will be the next biggest wind farm in the nation. These hulking turbines will tower over the scenic landscape north of Medicine Bow along Wyoming highways 487 and 77.
Nathan Wendt, vice president of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, recently wrote in the Star-Tribune that “Wyoming has the potential to be a wind powerhouse.”
I am afraid I agree with his prediction. We have magnificent winds because of the interaction between the jet stream and the ancient geography of South Pass. That spectacular gap forms an immense wind tunnel in the Rocky Mountains between Wyoming and Colorado.
Studies show we have the best on-shore wind potential. And our existing wind capacity means that we already produce more green energy per capita than any other state in the nation. We export more than 80 percent of our wind energy.
Although I don’t believe the Jackson-based author was arguing for huge wind turbines in Teton County, he did suggest that the rest of Wyoming should do more to combat climate change by promoting extensive wind development. I agree: Climate change is happening, and responsibly pursuing renewables is part of the solution. Reports on warming temperatures, melting icecaps and rising sea levels are far too familiar.
But when it comes to promoting wind, I disagree with Wendt and his supporters. If we develop wind, let’s do it on our terms, so our temporary feelings of excitement do not become permanent regrets later on.
The long-term need for greener electricity and our timeless winds are why our great-grandchildren may never experience many of our beautiful Wyoming vistas as the indigenous peoples and pioneers did and the way we do now.
More likely, they will see an industrialized landscape — one scarred by thousands of bird-smashing turbines, high-tension lines and innumerable utility roads. Where we see the joyous freedom of open space, they will have to peer through a fragmented, tattooed landscape.
Unfortunately, these future Wyoming citizens will not have had a voice in how our landscape was broken up by wind farms. They will not have had a chance to demand that they be compensated for their losses (as they are for other impacts caused by mineral extraction and energy production through severance and other taxes). They will not have had a say unless we speak up for them today.
If we don’t, what will we tell them when the excitement of the “boom” is over, when foreign and out-of-state construction companies go back home, and when our “like no place on Earth” landscapes are changed forever?
It is vitally important future generations receive a fair payment for their loss. Yes, support wind energy, but also support raising the Wyoming wind tax to ½ cent per kilowatt hour (kWh). This is a fraction of the federal subsidies wind developers are raking in, and a minuscule amount to pass on to West Coasters who are already paying $.20/kWh to heat their jacuzzis at the expense of our vistas. In a time when we are trying to close a funding gap to educate Wyoming’s future leaders, an increase in the wind tax is needed. Support raising the wind tax. Call your legislator.
State Sen. Cale Case is a Ph.D, economist and utility consultant from Lander.