GREEN RIVER – Two things are certain in southwest Wyoming these days.
The natural gas flows. And the wind blows.
The flows that are fueling the region’s huge natural gas boom will end one day, but that wind will blow seemingly forever.
A Utah-based engineering company hopes to tap into some of that endless, yet unrealized wind energy resource on top of White Mountain west of Rock Springs, according to county officials.
Tasco Engineering Inc. is seeking a conditional use permit for a 36-turbine operation on private lands between Rock Springs and Green River in Sweetwater County.
The proposed site lies near the scenic landmark called Pilot Butte and near the recently completed Wild Horse Loop Tour along the rim of White Mountain.
“There are very, very good wind resources on top of White Mountain, and certainly (the state) has a need for alternative energy … There’s a need for clean, renewable energy that has a low carbon footprint, so to speak, and this is it,” Sweetwater County Planner Mark Kot said.
“But on the other side, there are environmental concerns with birds and other (habitat) issues … and with visual impacts with Pilot Butte and the city (of Rock Springs),” Kot said in an interview. “These are the things that we have to balance as a community.”
County officials said the project is a scaled-down version of an earlier proposal in 2006 by Tasco and Teton Power LCC that sought permitting for 133 wind turbines on White Mountain.
That proposal was put on hold, however, because the county did not have any regulations in place at the time. The county drafted and implemented emergency rules until Sweetwater County commissioners adopted final rules and regulations governing wind farms in July 2006.
Improved technology and reduced power generation costs have raised interest across the nation in wind energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. Wyoming’s industry has a leg up on many other states, and over the past few years there have been several new projects proposed for the state’s wind-swept prairies.
The Tasco proposal marks the first official foray of wind energy into Sweetwater County, although other companies have since expressed interest in developing other wind energy projects, Kot said.
On a typical wind farm, wind power is converted to electricity by wind turbines. The turbines come in a variety of sizes depending upon the use of the electricity.
The White Mountain wind towers would be about 250 feet tall, according to company plans. The turbine’s blades would span about 150 feet.
Better winds, worse views
Kot said in July, the company submitted a revised application under the new rules seeking a conditional use permit to operate a 41-tower commercial wind farm on White Mountain. The company has since revised its tower proposal and now wants to construct 36 wind turbines on six tracts of land owned by the Rock Springs Grazing Association.
Company plans now call for setting the wind towers farther back from the rim of White Mountain to make them less visible to Rock Springs residents.
Kot said the new location, however, will make the towers more visible from Pilot Butte and the wild horse loop.
“The closer you get to the top of the rim on White Mountain, the more velocity the wind has, so the more efficient the wind turbines will be (in terms of) the amount of power generation,” Kot said. “The further back from the rim, the less amount of power generation.”
He said the company plans to move the produced electricity through an existing 230-kilovolt power line that runs from the top of White Mountain to a substation in Rock Springs.
Company plans call for constructing a maintenance building and operations storage yard near the power line interconnect.
Tasco President Gary Tassainer did not return phone messages.
Wyoming is ranked seventh in the top 20 states for wind energy potential, according to the American Wind Energy Association and the U.S. Department of Energy. North Dakota is first, followed by Texas and Kansas.
There are other wind farms on the drawing board in Wyoming.
Most recently in July, Rocky Mountain Power announced plans to build a 66-turbine wind farm at the reclaimed Dave Johnston coal mine in Converse County and another 66-turbine farm near Medicine Bow. Each would contribute 99 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough electricity to power almost 30,000 homes.
By Jeff Gearino
Southwest Wyoming bureau
23 August 2007
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