In a fervent effort to beat its 2020 deadline for getting a third of its electricity from solar and other renewable sources, California is turning to an unlikely source - a windblown desert three states away. Colorado-based investment firm Anschutz Corp., best known as the co-owner of Los Angeles' Staples Center, looks to build the nation's largest wind power generation facility on a sprawling cattle ranch in Rawlins, Wyoming.
Never mind the fact that Wyoming wouldn't use a kilowatt of it, the massive wind farm would produce as much power as three nuclear reactors - enough to make it not only the nation's biggest, but potentially the world's largest facility of its kind. That power would travel via the 750-mile-long TransWest Express transmission line, running clear to the Hoover Dam, and into to the California grid. Meanwhile, Wyoming is happy with its status-quo reliance on controversial coal.
So why Wyoming? Turns out the region where the Anschutz-owned ranch is located is one of the consistently windiest places in the United States, says Bill Miller, an oil and gas industry veteran in charge of building the wind farm. Again, never mind the obvious fact that the two states politically and environmentally are strange bedfellows, to say the least. Wyoming boasts the nation's cheapest electricity prices via two low-cost coal-fired power plants and recently became the first state to tax renewable energy. In stark contrast, Californians pay some of the country's highest electricity bills and has nearly done away with coal altogether by virtue of the US' most aggressive renewable energy laws - ergo its 2020 deadline.
Despite the difference in enviro-politics, Wyoming officials know a lucrative business deal when they see one. And while many Californians favor buying locally-generated power from smaller, in-state plants, Anschutz' $8 billion Wyoming plant will be able to generate and ship wind power to California more cheaply than the state can generate its own, the company's research shows.
Of course, controversy is stirring, with many ardently green Californians balking at what they consider a hypocritical alliance that potentially takes energy sector jobs away from the Golden State. And Anschutz, which plans to install 1,000 turbines at the site in two phases, awaits word on a federal permit that would allow for the deaths of eagles that may accidentally fly into the moving turbines.