Wind Resistance

Will the petrocracy -- and greens -- keep Wyoming from realizing its windy potential?

  • Pronghorn and wind turbines near Medicine Bow, Wyoming. JONATHAN THOMPSONPronghorn and wind turbines near Medicine Bow, Wyoming.

    Jonathan Thompson
  • Wind farm north of Elk Mountain, in Carbon County, Wyoming.

    Mark Goke
  • Oil magnate and anti-wind activist Diemer True.

    Jonathan Thompson
  • Kenneth G. Lay’s ranch on White Creek. Wasatch Wind has leased land for a wind farm on the ridge from Richard Grant and the state of Wyoming.

    Kenneth G. Lay
  • Bob Whitton says wind turbines could help Wyoming ranchers like him stay in business.

    Jonathan Thompson
  • Wyoming wind humor at the old National Weather Service forecast building at the Cheyenne airport.

    Tom Dietrich
 

Page 5

In October, Gov. Freudenthal told an energy conference that, in Wyoming, some folks who have made their money off gas and oil drilling and pipelines have "developed a sense of virtue about not destroying the environment," when faced with wind power. "They may be late conversions," he added, "but they are singing with great vigor in the front row of the choir." Most likely, he was talking about Diemer True. True joined the choir last year, when he discovered that Rocky Mountain Power planned to string its 230 kilovolt transmission line right along La Prele Creek, where he has two ranches. Then, Wasatch Wind asked True and his neighbors to lease their land for turbines. True, nearby landowner (and World Bank vice president) Kenneth G. Lay and some of their neighbors held a meeting in Douglas in May 2009 to come up with a plan of action. Around 200 people showed up.

Now, the Alliance has some 600 members and, with its slick Web site, petition drives and well-oiled PR machine, it has gained enough clout to make traditional green groups jealous. Just months after the Alliance formed, True took Rocky Mountain Power President Rich Walje up into the Laramie Range for a look around. As he basked in the quiet of the glades, pastures, aspens and ponderosas, Walje reportedly declared, "We can't build a power line here." Rocky Mountain Power withdrew that route from consideration, moving it farther east -- an unqualified victory for the group.

The Alliance fits into a bigger, nationwide pattern in which politics seem to get jumbled by wind power. Plenty of old-school energy companies have embraced wind: Whirlwind LLC in Wyoming is owned by Wold Oil Properties, run by Peter Wold, whose father, John, appears on the roughneck statue next to Dave True. Chevron has a controversial wind farm outside of Casper. BP donated $2 million to the University of Wyoming's wind energy center.

But quite often, the fossil fuel industry -- and folks who have made millions from it -- tilt at windmills. The NLRA bears an uncanny resemblance to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. The chairman of that group is Bill Koch, a coal and natural gas baron, who, according to Forbes.com, put $1.5 million into the group's effort to stop a wind-farm proposal right off Cape Cod on environmental grounds. Koch owns Oxbow Mining, which operates one of Colorado's biggest underground coal mines; and Gunnison Energy, which is drilling for natural gas on the edge of Colorado's Piceance Basin. In Colorado, a billionaire ranch owner and Oxy USA, a giant natural gas and petroleum company, oppose a power line that would carry solar-generated power out of the San Luis Valley. Fossil-fuel-funded think tanks like the Institute for Energy Research or Pacific Research Institute regularly cast doubts on the promise of renewable energy and green jobs.

In its talk and actions, however, the Alliance and its members appear sincere; not only have they extended their reach beyond their backyards, but they're beginning -- somewhat uncomfortably -- to embrace a green attitude. The mountains are "everyone's escape from city life," says Sharon Rodeman, an active member of the Alliance whose family has long ranched the Laramie Range. "It's a good place to rebalance and come back to nature with your kids and teach them to respect wildlife and enjoy the scenery and freeze in a tent." Lisa Mangus, another Alliance member who worries about the "spiderweb of power lines" wind farms will bring, concedes: "I guess we are environmentalists, even if we've never thought about that before. Just this way of life, living in Wyoming."

In October, the Alliance created the Northern Laramie Range Foundation to raise money to lease parcels of state land in the Laramie Range for recreational purposes. That will not only preclude wind development on those parcels, but it will also keep out other sorts of development –– including oil and gas drilling.

True refuses to call himself an environmentalist: "I'd couch us as preservationists or conservationists." Still, he says, "We all love the land out there. We just love it."

Barbara Parsons sits on the couch in her house in Rawlins, the biggest town in aptly named Carbon County, and rattles off a list of the foes she's fought during three decades of activism with the Wyoming Outdoor Council: The Union 76 uranium mining proposal; the Atlantic Rim coalbed methane boom; the Sinclair refinery, a sprawling collection of tanks, pipes and flaring stacks that kicks out some 75,000 barrels of petroleum products every day (and which spilled 2.73 million gallons of gasoline-grade fluid into the ground this May, putting the company town of Sinclair in danger of becoming flambeed.)

"I guess I'm pretty much of a hell-raiser," says the 70-year-old Wyoming native, who, with her wavy blonde hair and striking blue eyes, looks more like a country-club social coordinator than the avid hunter and green rabble-rouser that she is. Now, she's unleashed her hell-raising on wind power, and in so doing, oddly aligned herself with the state's natural gas industry.

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