Wyoming Protects Sage Grouse from Wind Farms

Published October 1, 2009

The state of Wyoming is unlikely to allow a pilot wind power program to determine the effects of wind farms on core sage grouse populations, state officials report.

The decision is a blow to the wind power industry, which is eyeing sage grouse country as one of the nation’s top locations for giant wind farms.

Executive Order Blocks Wind

Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) issued an executive order in 2008 identifying the state’s best sage grouse habitat and putting substantial restrictions on development in those areas. The executive order, designed to keep the sage grouse from requiring Endangered Species Act protection, effectively rendered wind power off limits in much of the state.

The wind power industry had hoped for an exception allowing the placement of a small-scale wind project that could yield more definitive data about the effect of wind turbines on sage grouse. Freudenthal’s staff conferred with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which determined even a pilot program would negatively affect regional sage grouse.

The wind power industry will be allowed to place turbines only in locations outside core sage grouse habitat.

Too Much Protection?

Charles Ware, director of legislative affairs for the Wyoming Liberty Group, believes environmental activists are overreacting in their protection of sage grouse.

“We are and should be good stewards of our natural resources, and I think that includes working around a system where if you want to have the wind industry, you don’t shut it down because extreme environmentalists are saying it’s going to harm the sage grouse,” Ware said.

Pointing out how technology has made oil and natural gas drilling more environmentally friendly, Ware said the same can be done regarding wind power production.

“Instead of drilling one hole per one well on multiple pads, you can have multiple gas wells on a quarter-acre. They have devised a way where they can drill one hole and they can go off four different directions underground and access that other part of that gas table that’s 10,000 feet deep, without having to move that drilling rig,” Ware said.

“My point in comparing it to drills is to be innovative and creative,” Ware explained.

More than Just Turbines

Roger Meiners, a senior fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, notes the spinning fan blades, which threaten birds and bats, are not the only environmental problem associated with wind power.

“Another problem associated with wind energy is that the most favorable locations for wind are often not accessible to the electrical grid,” Meiners said. “According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it would require an additional 12,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines costing $60 billion to increase the contribution of wind to national electricity production to 20 percent by 2030.”

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.