The 7 GW-worth of 17 projects to be fast-tracked in 2012 are fewer but larger than those approved to date. One is 2-3 GW all by itself, and will be the largest wind farm in North America. The thousand-turbine wind farm under development by the Power Company of Wyoming at Chokecherry/Sierra Madre will transform some of the best wind resources in the U.S. to 2,000-3,000 MW generating capacity. The BLM expects to issue the project’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) in 2012.
In addition to Power Co’s gigantic wind farm, Shell Wind Energy’s 50-MW Sand Hills Ranch is expected to complete its EIS early this year and Teton Wind’s 360-MW White Mountain wind project near Rock Springs should soon be under construction. Both are also in Wyoming.
Interestingly, this means that half the power (3.4 GW) from all of the new projects is from wind power sited in Wyoming, which has two Republican senators, and only 134,000 recently active voters. This almost seems designed to gradually create a tipping point for renewables in at least one predominantly coal-powered state which has long delivered fossil-fuel-friendly Republican senators to help prevent Senate passage of renewable policies.
The renewable projects approved so far will pay just under $1 billion a year in lease payments to the U.S. Treasury. With 2012 permits as well, that’s likely to double. In addition to lease payments to the feds, the 2-3 GW wind project alone will pay up to $42 million in local property taxes in its first full year of existence, and up to $438 million over 20 years. This sort of revenue begins to create a local constituency for clean power.
Of course, the availability of good wind and solar resources are the primary consideration, along with environmentally sensitive sites being ruled out by the early environmental review. The new approach was developed by working closely with other agencies that also must sign off on renewable projects, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, as well as by coordinating closely with the major environmental groups.
The National Resources Defense Council worked with the Obama administration early on by developing maps of potential environmentally safe sites early on, saving time both for developers, and in the environmental reviews, enabling much more efficient processing of renewable energy applications.
The Obama administration is showing real determination to get the U.S. to a lower carbon footprint, leaving a legacy of clean energy projects that protect us from climate destabilization, even if 2012 does turn out to be the last year in which that can be done. But these new projects cannot help but gradually create a constituency for renewables that may begin to bear fruit after 2012, in Congress, where we need climate legislation passed.