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Coal-rich Wyoming's tremendous wind power possibilities

A new coalition recently came together in the wind-rich state of Wyoming.

By Nathan Wendt

The Wyoming Wind Coalition is a growing group of private sector and economic development agencies that will work together to promote and attract more wind development to Wyoming for the jobs, tax revenue, and contribution to economic diversification benefits that wind can bring to Wyoming. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Wyoming has 50 percent of the nation's best wind quality yet is only 15th in installed megawatt capacity.

The coalition's goals over the next decade are to support new developments and those already underway that;

  • Increase Wyoming's annual wind energy generation to top-three national levels.
  • Triple annual, full-time wind jobs.
  • Triple the annual wind revenue tax base.
  • Attract the first wind manufacturing facility to set up operations in Wyoming.

Two coalition members—Viridis Eolia and Goldwind Americas—are moving forward with actions that can contribute to job creation. Goldwind Americas will supply turbines for Viridis's 2,000-plus-megawatt project in Medicine Bow and, via a new program called Goldwind Works, provide free wind technician job training in support of providing hundreds of 20-year jobs.

Aggressive plans like these can play a meaningful role in the economic diversification and jobs quest. But harnessing the wind can build out new economic growth even more. If Wyoming is building a lot of wind turbines, it would make sense to have wind manufacturing facilities nearby, creating even more jobs. Wind turbines involve the fabrication of many different components—8,000, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)— generators, rotors, gears, towers, and blades. Wind can be a backbone industry supporting manufacturing.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has initiated an economic diversification initiative, ENDOW, which targets the information technology sector, among others, as a priority for economic development. Companies like Google and Microsoft have demonstrated that they want the energy supplying their data centers to be renewable. A big push in wind development will make Wyoming that much more attractive for those facilities and jobs.

Wind can accommodate a wide range of interests and technologies within a clean energy future. Those interests and technologies include coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel source. Rocky Mountain Power demonstrated this flexibility in the submission of its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to the state's Public Utility Commission. In the plan, Rocky Mountain Power proposed to upgrade 600 megawatts of wind power facilities and add another 1,100 megawatts of new wind generation to its total in-state generating capacity over the next three years. It also opted, at a total expense of $3.5 billion, to build the additional transmission capacity to accommodate this increased generation capacity, rather than close a portion of the 2,100-megawatt Jim Bridger coal-fired power plant in order to free up the transmission lines connecting the two points. This translates into coal and wind working together to bring the costs down for Wyoming ratepayers.

Perhaps the image that best captures this wind moment is a wind farm in Glenrock. The wind farm is sited on a depleted coal mine that previously provided fuel for the 760-megawatt coal-fired Dave Johnson plant, at the edge of the mine. The mine site was reclaimed, and the wind farm on the reclaimed land now provides 327 megawatts of additional power.

Nathan Wendt is vice president at the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, a bipartisan think tank focused on scaling clean energy and economic diversification ideas for coal communities.

 


September/October 2017