Things to know about $8B wind energy proposal

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Four companies have proposed an $8 billion project to supply the Los Angeles area with large amounts of electricity from a wind farm in Wyoming. Here are a few things to know about the ambitious project:

— COMPRESSED AIR: Wyoming wind seems to blow day and night, year-round. But it's actually a lot windier in winter months. Since Los Angeles residents use more energy in summer, developers plan to build a massive battery of sorts in Utah. The plan involves four underground chambers — a quarter-mile high and almost as wide as a football field — that would store compressed air. Electric pumps would fill the caverns during times of high wind and low demand. It would then be released during times of low wind and high demand, driving turbines that would boost electricity back onto the grid.

— NOT COAL: Wyoming is the top coal-producing state and has no state mandate requiring utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable power sources. Yet, its abundant wind and unpopulated expanses offer vast options for wind developers to help utilities in California, Colorado and other states meet their requirements. Wind presents a welcome alternative as Wyoming officials travel to the Far East seeking overseas buyers for coal.

— NOT (QUITE) THE BIGGEST: The $8 billion project would involve building enough wind turbines to power 1.2 million homes with 2,100 megawatts of electricity. That's a big wind farm — but not quite the biggest on the drawing boards in Wyoming. In the works is a 1,000-turbine, 3,000-megawatt Chokecherry-Sierra Madre development that Denver-based The Anschutz Corp. is planning near Saratoga in south-central Wyoming. Anschutz expects preliminary ground work to begin next year. The electricity produced also is targeted at California.

— SPECIES IN THE WAY: One of the darker aspects of wind power that the turbines kill large numbers of birds, including federally protected bald and golden eagles. Both species are abundant in Wyoming, yet securing an "eagle take" permit for a massive wind farm could prove easier said than done. Anschutz officials have been waiting since early this year to secure a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their big Wyoming project.

— BOOM TO CHUGWATER: The wind farm will be built near a picturesque, oddly named town on Wyoming's high plains with a population of 200 and falling, despite a plan a decade ago to lure residents by selling city lots for $100 apiece. Any hint of economic development — let alone a huge wind farm — is sure to be welcome news for Chugwater.