The largest wind farm in the world may be coming to the Wyoming prairie. And smaller farms are in the works offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Wyoming project would comprise up to 1,000 turbines, generating enough electricity to serve a million homes. The project, in two groups of turbines named, respectively, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre sites, would occupy about 2,000 acres of public and private land south of Rawlins. Together, the two farms could replace two coal-fired generating plants in nearby Nevada.
The Bureau of Land Management has completed the final environmental impact statements on the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre projects. That will not soon shut down any coal plants; the announcement began a 30-day review and protest period, including development of a bird protection plan and other plans to ensure the safety of other wildlife for the life of the project.
Also, an agreement must be drafted and signed with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Northern Arapahoe, Eastern Shoshone, Northern Ute, and Fort Peck Assiniboine/Sioux tribes.
Eventually, if the project is permitted, construction could take up to four years, according to PCW.
Meanwhile, discussions and negotiations between the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and a variety of “stakeholders” in Rhode Island and Massachusetts may result in a commercial-size wind farm a few miles offshore of those states.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in February an agreement that excluded some commercial fishing grounds from the plan. That left issues including possible hazard to the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, vessel traffic, cultural resources such as shipwrecks, and the seaward visual landscape otherwise enjoyed by seacoast residents.
Last week, Salazar announced completion of the environmental impact study, involving an area of about 164,000 acres, approximately 11 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 13 miles east of Block Island. He said eight companies have so far indicated interest in developing wind-powered electricity in the area.
More than 100 coal-fired plants nationwide are slated for retirement, and others have been or are planned for conversion to natural gas. That should be good news for residents of the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, where mountaintop mining has resulted in mountainside valleys being filled in as diggers peel away dirt in pursuit of belts of the flammable black rock.
In Wyoming, on the other hand, about 200 miles north of the proposed wind project, other companies have been strip-mining the Power River Basin. According to a BLM fact sheet, about 20 percent of U.S. homes are powered by coal from the basin. It says more than 100 coal-laden trains leave Wyoming daily, bound for customers around the nation.
And soon, if the coal companies plans stay on track, across the globe. Arch Coal, the nation’s second largest coal producer, has purchased shipping terminals in San Diego and is building or planning rail lines from the PRB to the terminals. Arch CEO Steven Leer has been quoted announcing plans to “service growing coal demand in Asia, the world’s largest and fastest-growing coal market.”
The basin is estimated to hold more coal than the U.S. can burn in 50 years. BLM has said leases on the 14 million acres of coal-rich public lands it controls will be worth $21 billion over the next three years.
Some studies – which generally limit their calculations to the cost of plant operation – claim wind power is more expensive then coal or oil.
But factor in transportation costs, and the health of the planet’s inhabitants – coal is a major contributor to the nation’s health care bill – and the cost of a few windmills twirling in the distance becomes a mighty attractive deal.
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