Look around Carbon County – we’ve got wide-open vistas for hunting, fishing, hiking, photography, camping, four-wheeler riding and snowmobiling.
It’s no wonder outdoors magazines rate Rawlins and Saratoga two of the best places to live in the nation.
But when you’re out and about, savor it, because the face of Carbon County is about to change.
Once the Chokecherry Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project is complete, 1,000 wind turbines will cover 1,544 acres on the Overland Trail Ranch, south of Rawlins. The largest wind farm in North America will be in the middle of a natural expanse and, with 300-odd foot towers, visible from areas 30 miles away.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is taking comments about the wind farm through Oct. 19 – specifically, its draft environmental impact statement, which details this in 1,000-plus pages.
Let them know what you think.
Here’s what we think: This wind farm is a game-changer.
This cannot be understated. The Chokecherry Sierra Madre wind farm redefines Carbon County and, although it provides short- and, arguably, long-term monitory gains, it doesn’t furnish enough benefits to raze our outdoors culture.
We’re all for renewable power – most of this editorial board would rather see wind turbines along Interstate 80 than strip mines – but this wind farm isn’t necessarily the windfall it’s projected to be.
It’s not about power – all of that’s being piped to Las Vegas for the southwest. Given mandates in California, a lot of Wyoming wind power is probably headed that way, as well.
It’s not about jobs – given the specialized nature of the 100-odd positions, they’ll probably be outsourced. The projected 100-odd induced jobs aren’t guaranteed.
It’s not about wildlife – people can speculate as to what’s going to happen to mule deer, pronghorn and avian populations, but a wind farm of this magnitude has never been built, so there’s no frame of reference. Same goes for the greater sage grouse population, which might’ve been protected by former Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s core protection areas, if the Chokecherry Sierra Madre wind farm wasn’t put on the map years ago as if it already existed.
It’s not the money – the hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes and impact assistance during the construction period should be a short-term boon, but the sustained revenues aren’t as glowing. In particular, $1 per megawatt state tax set by the 2010 Wyoming Legislature was supposed to be a placeholder, not dogma, and is laughable in its current form.
So what’s the tradeoff?
The wind farm company – that’s the Denver-based Anschutz affiliate, Power Company of Wyoming, TransWest Express, the Overland Trail Cattle Company or whatever pseudonym fits the bill – gets portfolio padding and billions in profits.
We get … prestige by association? Free beanies with propellers?!
How about payola?
We’re thinking, free power for everyone in Carbon County. The wind farm loses more than that in line resistance running the power from here to Nevada. Our communities aren’t large to be a commercially viable power market, so why not give us a hand?
Or what about something like they do in Alaska, where every citizen gets a check every year for the loss of natural resources?
We understand some of the Wyoming tribes believe the wind is a cultural resource, one owned by heritage. How about something for them?
Yes, Wyoming is an energy export state, and it’s not Anschutz’s fault our state government hasn’t figured out how to use Wyoming resources for Wyoming citizens, but the company involved has a chance to do what is right.
Opening up hunter access to a portion of the ranch is a nice start, but it’s not enough. How about sponsoring more community events and seminars?
Organizing a healthy exit plan is, likewise, encouraging – and it’s unlikely wind power ghosts much industrial debris or tailing – but it’s not enough. How about setting up a scholarship trust?
Meeting with local “cooperating agencies” is a start, but it’s not enough. How about helping setup cornerstone businesses for industrial parks?
If Carbon County is losing defining scenery, then help us prop up a new one.
This is a watershed moment in renewable energy, but it doesn’t have to follow corporate suit.
Our Wyoming landscapes are our way of life, and if we’re trading our lifestyle for a temporary boom, we need to make sure it’s worth it.
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