Wind Update: U.S. Pushes Ahead on Wyoming, Offshore Wind Farm Plans

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced progress on two wind power fronts this week, with environmental reviews completed on both a massive Wyoming wind farm and on a large offshore area near Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Farm in Carbon County, Wyoming, are two sites about 15 kilometers apart covering less than 800 hectares each. When taken together, though, they would be the biggest wind project in the United States. The Power Company of Wyoming wants to build 1000 turbines, totaling as much as 3000 megawatts of power. The project will cost between US $4 billion and $6 billion to complete, and the hope is that construction will begin in 2013.

The DOI released a final environmental impact statement on the project, which is now followed by a 30-day "public availability and protest period."

If built (and it looks promising, based on this progress), the wind farm would be capable of powering somewhere around 1 million homes. Of course, Wyoming itself only has about 260 000 homes in the entire state, which means all that wind power has to travel to be useful, which means new transmission lines, connections to the grid, and substations. It is, clearly, a massive undertaking, though the company hopes to finish construction within three to four years. Given that the U.S. is currently hovering around 50 000 MW of total installed wind capacity, adding six percent of that in one fell swoop is an impressive idea.

But it will be even more impressive when we finally have that first offshore turbine spinning. At the end of 2011 I was optimistic that this year would see that landmark happen, but with Cape Wind hoping to start construction only in 2013 and no other project all that close, it isn't looking good. Still, the news from the DOI is promising: the agency released an environmental assessment for wind development over a massive area off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which could lead to lease sales to developers in the near future. The area in question covers more than 65 000 hectares, and eight companies are interested in pursuing projects in the region.

The DOI's "Smart from the Start" initiative, launched in 2010, aims to speed up permitting and review processes for offshore wind projects, in reaction to the intense difficulty seen in getting wind projects going during the last decade. The Rhode Island-Massachusetts site was designated a Wind Energy Area in February, a key step in the DOI strategy to move projects ahead more rapidly. Still, we are likely a few years away from any actual construction in the region.

Map: Department of the Interior

This post was updated 5 July, 2012

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