Wyoming is an ideal place to generate electricity from wind. But getting current from turbines to customers is a political and economic puzzle. How it plays out will have lessons for renewable-energy projects nationwide.
FORTUNE — The best wind in America is in Wyoming. It is a door-snapping, heart-pounding wind that barrels in from the west, chasing the truckers along Interstate 80 as they race to make Omaha by nightfall. It is sometimes described with words ordinarily associated with dark chocolate or exceptional pinot noir. It has been called dense, world-class, consistently extraordinary, special, and fabulous.
It is all these things and more. The best wind in America is also harsh and divisive. Across Wyoming, whose vast resources of coal and natural gas help keep state taxes low and the nation’s lights on, there is a sprawling battle under way about the future of this renewable energy, how to develop it, and how to get it to market.
They are fighting here over policy, taxes on wind farms, and the legal rights of the companies that want to build the networks of power lines and towers needed to move electricity to Oregon, Nevada, and California. And they are fighting over things that can’t be so easily quantified, such as how best to preserve the sweeping views of mountains that seem to tumble down from the sky, and whether an energy source that still depends on tax credits and set-asides is worth all the trouble.
The residents of Wyoming aren’t the only ones wondering where the wind leads. In a sense, we all are — or should be. The Obama administration, like its predecessor, has a goal to increase the amount of power generated from wind to 20% by 2030. It’s now at about 2%. We have the wind, on land and offshore. What we lack is the infrastructure. And the scale of the footprint that would be required to generate and then move all this power is only starting to come into view, igniting battles in Wisconsin, Maine, and elsewhere.
There’s good wind across the nation’s midsection, but Wyoming’s wind is given an extra boost by a 100-mile stretch in the state’s southern half, where the Continental Divide all but disappears and the wind gathers force as it pushes through from the west. Beyond power and speed, Wyoming has consistency — what’s known as capacity. At many places in the state, the wind blows more than 40% of the time.
Along the highways around Cheyenne and Casper, plenty of turbines rise out of the sagebrush and scrublands. Wind energy here is already generating about 1,400 megawatts of power a year, but that’s perhaps a tenth of the state’s potential. And in the past year the industry has come to a dead halt. There are political obstacles, but the main problem is this: Wyoming has run out of power lines connecting it to the rest of the country. And until it gets more, that epic wind is just moving dust and dirt eastward, one gust at a time.”
Read the rest here: The power struggle for Wyoming’s wind – Fortune Tech.