Western Wind Power’s Impacts

Pads have been cleared in preparation for massive wind turbines at Overland Trail Ranch. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Wind power is part of our future. Full stop. But it is worth thinking about how the infrastructure for that power will change places of vast beauty and tradition.

A worker herds cattle at Overland Trail Ranch as a snowstorm moves in. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

This article by Sammy Roth, with photography by Robert Gauthier, is a worthy thought piece on what we gain, what we give up, and who decides how and where wind energy comes to town:

This power line could save California — and forever change the American West

PacifiCorp’s Ekola Flats wind farm has 63 turbines, most of them rated at 4.3 megawatts — almost six times as much power as some of the old steel-lattice wind towers in the California desert outside Palm Springs. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

I know the wind turbine blades aren’t going to kill me. At least, I’m pretty sure.

No matter how many times I watch the slender arms swoop down toward me — packing as much punch as 20 Ford F-150 pickup trucks — it’s hard to shake the feeling they’re going to knock me off my feet. They sweep within a few dozen feet of the ground before launching back toward the heavens, reaching nearly 500 feet above my head — higher than the highest redwood.

They’re eerily quiet, emitting only a low hum. But in the howling wind, the tips could be barreling past at 183 mph.

So yes, I’m a little terrified — but also full of awe. These machines are changing the world, after all.

More than 800 miles from Los Angeles — on ranchland littered with so much cow dung it’s hard not to step in it — the pastel-green hills are studded with wind giants. They dominate the scruffy sagebrush landscape, hundreds of them, framing the snow-streaked heights of Elk Mountain and casting dramatic shadows as gray clouds threaten to overtake a brilliant blue sky.

Before wind energy took off, there wasn’t much going on in this corner of Wyoming cattle country, says Laine Anderson, director of wind operations at PacifiCorp, the company owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffett that built these turbines.

“It was sagebrush and some hills, is basically all it was,” Anderson says. “A lot of ranchers out here trying to scratch out a living on what actually grows in the few months that we have a growing season. Winters out here can be pretty brutal.”

The American West is on the cusp of immense change. A region long defined by wide-open vistas is in the early stages of a clean energy boom that could fundamentally alter its look and feel. On your next Western road trip, watch for wind turbines in the backcountry. Drive through the desert and prepare for dark seas of shimmering solar panels.

These renewable energy projects are cropping up across the rural West, driven largely by the power demands of distant cities: Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle and more. It’s not the first time those cities have looked far beyond their borders for electricity. They fueled their explosive 20th century growth by propping up coal plants and damming rivers, with little regard for the consequences…

Read the whole article here.

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