What could become the world’s largest wind farm is being treated like something of a sure thing after the Obama administration this week declared the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project site in Wyoming suitable for development. But here’s a question: Will they build it if there’s no production tax credit in place?
The Anschutz Corporation, through an LLC called Power Company of Wyoming (PCW), has been working since at least 2008 on plans and approvals for the project, which could see up to 1,000 turbines putting out 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of electricity in south-central Wyoming and sending it to population centers in the Southwest.
This week’s federal approval of the project’s basic components – two huge clusters of wind-turbines, about nine miles apart in Carbon County, with their attendant infrastructure – gave the administration the opportunity to crow about its politically popular and, to be sure, remarkable achievements in advancing renewable energy development.
“President Obama challenged us in his State of the Union address to authorize 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on our public lands by the end of the year – enough to meet the needs of more than 3 million homes – and today we are making good on that promise,” U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.
Salazar’s Record of Decision for the project [PDF] doesn’t free the developer to go hog wild on the area authorized for development: “Additional environmental reviews will be needed for the specific turbine layout,” the Interior Department said. And the Bureau of Land Management, Interior said, “will continue to engage stakeholders as these additional reviews are carried out.” Plus, the project must pass muster with the Wyoming Industrial Siting Commission.
Nevertheless, the Salazar decision sets the wheels in motion for “the BLM to proceed with site specific environmental analysis for the Sierra Madre Wind Farm, the Chokecherry Wind Farm, the internal haul road, the internal 230 kilovolt transmission line, the rail distribution facility, and substations to connect the generated power to the electric grid,” the department said.
Apparently sensing that employment just might be an issue that resonates with Americans these days, the administration touted the job-creating benefits that could flow from the Wyoming project, which figures to unfold in stages over several years.
“At peak construction, project developers believe the project will create an estimated 1,000 full-time jobs; when operational, the facility is expected to employ 114 permanent workers,” the Interior Department said.
On page 2: The hurdles that Chokecherry and Sierra Madre could face.