CARBON COUNTY, Wyo.- Bruce Morley stands on Foote Creek Rim, the high ridge he hopes to cover with a forest of wind turbines, and eyes the brown haze from a power plant 150 miles away.
"Every month this project would generate
as much power as a coal train a mile long," says Morley, raising
his voice over the winter wind. He's the project manager for
Kenetech, a California-based company that hopes to build the first
phase of a 1,390-turbine, 500-megawatt windpower plant here early
The ridge straddles one of the only
natural gaps in the Rockies, funneling wind through at an average
speed of 21.5 mph. When the windspeed here peaks during winter
days, so does the demand. Says Morley, "This is probably the best
windpower site in the country."
regional biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, isn't so
sure. The site chosen by Kenetech, he says, is also a popular
hunting ground for raptors including bald eagles and peregrine
falcons. He's concerned that these and other migratory birds will
be struck and killed by the spinning blades of the turbines. At the
Altamount windfarm in California, another Kenetech project, 567
raptors were confirmed killed over a two-year
"In general, the Service supports the
idea of windpower," he says, "but that's a cause for concern,
especially when there are other sites available."
Because the birds are protected by the
Endangered Species Act, the Bald Eagle Protection Act, and the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Kenetech must demonstrate that it is
doing everything possible to reduce raptor mortality.
At the request of the Fish and Wildlife Service,
the company has already redesigned the turbines. To eliminate
potential perching sites, the turbines will sit on tubular towers,
not a lattice structure like those used in California.
That may not be enough. Biologists believe that
many raptors are killed in Altamount because they are startled from
their perches on the towers when the wind picks up and blades begin
Brockman would like to see Kenetech
spend more money researching other ways to reduce raptor mortality.
"So far," he says, "they've been focusing their efforts on public
opinion and politics."
Morley says the company
hasn't been ignoring the problem of turbines killing birds. "We've
been conscientiously researching the problem and we take it
seriously." Kenetech has already spent $2 million researching and
mitigating avian mortality at its other wind power plants, he
notes, and it will spend $300,000 a year monitoring the impacts of
He says that Kenetech looked for
other sites but that raptor concentrations are high wherever there
is enough wind to make the project economically feasible. "You have
to drill the oil well where the oil is," he says, "You just can't
move to a different place that isn't windy."
Bill Harshman, Carbon County clerk, would like
to see the project stay right where it is. He says that with large
amounts of coal, uranium, and natural gas the county boomed during
the energy crisis of the early 1980s but has been in a depression
since. He hopes the project will provide the economy and the county
coffers with a needed boost.
Though only 20
full-time employees will be needed once the project is built, it
will pump an estimated $100 million into the region's economy and
$630,000 a year into its schools.
What happens in
Carbon County may have national implications. Technology developed
in the last few years has made windpower costs competitive even
with cheap sources of energy like coal and hydropower. The
Department of Energy estimates wind may supply 10 percent of the
energy in the United States by the year 2010, and it has formed a
National Windpower Coordinating Committee to study the issues and
come up with guidelines. Pete Poulos, the Fish and Wildlife
representative on the committee says, "What's going on in Wyoming
is representative of what's going on nationally."
Foote Creek Rim is a checkerboard of federal,
state and private lands. State and private landowners have already
approved the project, but the Bureau of Land Management wants the
public to participate as well.
Comments on the
preliminary environmental impact statement will be accepted until
March 28. To obtain a copy, contact Area Manager, Great Divide
Resource Area, Bureau of Land Management, P.O. Box 670, Rawlins, WY
82301 (307/ 324-7171).