US Greenlights Biggest Wind Farm, Developer Races to Build Nation's First Offshore Project

The Department of Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Land Management has approved one of seven major renewable energy projects that President Obama pledged to fast-track in August.

The largest wind farm in the US – and likely in the world – now has the green light – the 3000 megawatt (MW) Chokecherry/Sierra Madre Wind Energy installation in Wyoming.

1,000 wind turbines will be spread across 220,000 acres in the hilly sagebrush country of south-central Wyoming, about half on federally owned land and half privately owned by Overland Trail Cattle Company.

Sited in one of the best areas for wind resources in the US, the $4-6 billion project will supply electricity to 1 million homes!

The developer, Power Company of Wyoming, will now proceed with site-specific environmental analyses that will give it a better idea of where the roads, infrastructure and turbines will go.  Roadwork and groundwork could begin next year – 300-400 wind turbines will be installed each year, disturbing less than 2,000 acres  long term, they say.

The company is a subsidiary of Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz’s The Anschutz Corp.

1,000 wind jobs could be created during peak construction, along with 114 permanent positions.

Power Co of Wyoming says it used advanced technology and an expert team of ecologists and biologists to gather data on bird habitat and use in the area. 

"We have collected more scientific data in a broader area and to a finer degree than anyone else has ever done," CEO Bill Miller says. "We know where turbines should and should not go. Our plan to microsite all turbines will assure potential impacts on wildlife are far lower than outlined in the general project-wide EIS, while also materially increasing the country’s clean energy supplies."

But a local environmental group, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, says it would devastate sage grouse and golden eagle populations there and is considering legal action.

The company says it will be careful not to place turbines in golden eagle migratory paths or in sage-grouse core areas.

Although wind farms are far better than fossil fuel plants, they still are industrial developments, notes Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist for the group. "You can fiddle around with all those small scale tweaks, but the real impact is where you (locate the wind farm)," he told McClatchy-Tribune Regional News.

This is the 33rd utility-scale renewable energy project DOI has authorized on public land. Wind, solar and geothermal projects approved since 2009 have a total capacity of 10,000 MW, enough to power 3 million homes.

"Our strategy is getting us within grasp of energy independence in the United States," DOI Secretary Ken Salazar says.

Other projects being expedited under Obama’s "We Can’t Wait" initiative are:

  • Mohave County Wind Farm (Arizona): 425 MW built by BP Wind on 47,000 acres.
  • McCoy Solar Energy (California): 750 MW solar PV plant built by NextEra on 4,893 acres.
  • Silver State South (Nevada): 350 MW solar PV plant built by First Solar on 13,043 acres. 50 MW is completed – the first solar project on public lands to deliver power to the grid.
  • Moapa Solar Energy Center (Nevada): 200 MW, half solar PV and half concentrating solar built by RES Americas. One of the first large-scale solar projects on tribal lands, it will be built on 2000 acres on the Moapa River Indian Reservation and on federal lands. 
  • Desert Harvest Solar Energy Project (California): 150 MW solar PV plant built by enXco on 1,200 acres.
  • Quartzsite Solar Energy (Arizona): 100 MW concentrating solar plant built by Solar Reserve on 1,675 acres.

"These are going to be landmarks in America. They are going to be what people think about when they think about the American West. And they are going to completely change the way that we think about energy production," says Neil Kornze, acting deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management.

Rhode Island Could Host First US Offshore Wind Farm

As work gets started in Wyoming, another wind developer is working to get permits for the first offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

Deepwater Wind believes it has a shot at starting construction in 2014, beating the long-delayed 420 MW Cape Wind project off Massachusetts.

This month, the company submitted its final state and federal permits for the proposed $250 million, 30 MW Block Island demonstration project. It consists of just five enormous 6 MW turbines made by Siemens.

The US division of UK power company National Grid would buy the power, which would serve about 10,000 Rhode Island homes.

This is the first in a string of Atlantic Coast projects proposed by Deepwater, which is owned by New York investment firm DE Shaw and Boston-based wind developer First Wind.

Deepwater has bigger plans though. It’s also working on a mammoth 1000 MW Deepwater Wind Energy Center in the area. Its regional transmission network (which would also be built) would provide power across New England and down to New York.

It’s also a contender for a wind farm offshore from Long Island, New York and the another 1000 MW project, Hudson Canyon,  south of New York City, which would pick up the slack if the Indian Point nuclear power plant is closed when its reactors expire in 2013 and 2015. Governor Cuomo is pushing for closure.

Hudson Canyon would tie into the nation’s largest power grid – the PJM connection that serves more than 60 million people in 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwest states.

"Even if Indian Point remains in service, the New York region is growing and will need new sources of energy, and it can’t all be natural gas," Deepwater Wind CEO William Moore told Reuters.

Two separate research reports released this year find that offshore wind could serve the power needs of the entire East Coast while creating $200 billion in economic activity.

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