In 1998, I was approached by a small company from California that was looking to study or monitor the wind. I agreed to let them put some meteorological towers on our property in hopes of one day being able to develop a wind farm and the revenue that goes along with that.
When the wind energy project started to be developed, the local businesses were used for all the items that they could. Yes, it is true, some things had to come from out of town. But everything that they could use that was available locally they did — construction companies, gravel, water, truck drivers, restaurants, grocery stores and clothing stores. Not to mention hotels. Money flowed into the community, its schools, roads and taxes. Granted, there are not 400 jobs to fill now that construction is done, but there are jobs, good paying jobs. There are people making a living here in Wyoming and spending the money they make here also.
It used to be difficult to access some of our land; two-track roads were the only means of vehicle travel and the weather shut those down on a regular basis. Horseback was most likely but more time consuming. Even if we reached the borders of the ground with truck and trailer, you still had to ride a lot to reach most of the areas. All-terrain vehicles were an option but they tend to tear up the terrain just as much as the trucks when the roads are muddy, and hard to traverse in snow.
So a blessing in disguise arrived with the planning of the wind farm and roads that are on our private ground. No longer do we spend hours of travel time or risking being stuck on muddy two-track roads, or where the road meets a mud hole and everyone tries to go around making the road much wider, instead we have access on well-maintained gravel roads. It is easier on our equipment and faster to manage our livestock and ground. It seems like such a small thing to be happy with, but it has impacted our day-to-day ranching activities tremendously.
We are better able to maintain the ground, move the livestock through rotational grazing and have better access to our land. Not to mention the fact that our wives know we are not stuck somewhere in the mud, just late! As the reclamation of the roads and wind turbine bases has grown in, I believe that there is more grass available for our livestock and the wildlife. Some of the old roads that were on the steep slopes have started to grass in and go away.
We have an abundance of wildlife on the property. We have excellent hunting and the wind farm has not changed that. Elk, deer and antelope lounge in the shade of the wind turbines. Ducks, geese, cranes and other birds enjoy the land. There has been great concern over sage grouse and the effect that wind turbines will have on them. I can say from my personal experience that the towers have not had any detrimental effects on them.
The construction of the wind power plant was intensive. One day during the erection of one wind turbine the sage grouse were actually fluffing themselves in the dust at the base and the workers were trying to move them away and they were running out in the brush and circling back to the base of the wind turbines faster than the workers could move them. They were not bothered by the towers.
The animals I believe look at the wind turbines as something that is part of the landscape. After a short time I have caught myself doing the same thing. You notice them but don’t really pay attention to them.
I am not going to say that wind turbines do not make noise. What I can say is that we have a cabin that is less than one-quarter mile from some of the wind turbines and that the sound of the wind blowing and the noise that it makes in your ears is louder than the noise that the wind turbines make. Unless you are standing right under the wind turbines it is very difficult to hear them. The wind turbines are an engineering marvel. They sound like the ocean in the distance.
Another benefit that needs to be realized is the payments to landowners for allowing these wind power plants on their land. This money often times can help keep farmers and ranchers financially solvent and help preserve the open space that ranches provide. This money is generally spent in the local communities and also adds wealth to the local and state economies. There are also taxes that are paid that have helped in sustaining our shrinking tax base and keeping our local governments functioning.
Wyoming may have some of the best winds for producing energy but if the regulatory climate or tax climate is to stringent I fear that energy companies will take their wind power projects to other states. Once their renewable energy portfolios are achieved it may be many years before more wind is developed.
Wyoming is an exporting state. By that I mean we export a large majority of our agricultural products, our oil and gas, our coal.
Our nation is always consuming more energy and looking for new ways to produce more energy. There is a tremendous amount of energy in Wyoming’s wind that could be harnessed to produce electricity, jobs and wealth to landowners, communities, schools, state and county governments. Or, on the other hand, we could just let it all blow away with the wind.
By Shaun Sims, Wyoming Rancher, www.awea.org/blog/