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WPA Assists Bureau of Land Management Reach Its Renewable Energy Goal: A Wind Powering America Success Story

WPA Assists Bureau of Land Management Reach Its Renewable Energy Goal: A Wind Powering America Success Story

Date: 12/21/2010

Location: WY

In October 2010, a Wind Powering America (WPA) team consisting of Doug Dahle, Robi Robichaud, and Owen Roberts traveled to Rawlins, Wyoming to provide technical assistance to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the proposed Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project. The wind farm is a 1,000-turbine project that will have a rated capacity between 2,000 and 3,000 megawatts (MW) and will be partially located on BLM land.

According to Pamela Murdoch, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) coordinator for the BLM and project manager for the wind development, the project will have an enormous impact in moving the BLM closer to its renewable energy goal of 10,000 MW.

"As far as our overall goals, I think it's going to be a huge, key portion of it. It's the largest project ever proposed on BLM land," Murdoch said.

Wind Powering America has provided technical assistance to the BLM in this Work for Others effort in the form of reviewing the technical feasibility of the project, reviewing the preliminary draft environmental impact statement, and assisting in responding to renewable energy alternatives that were suggested during the public scoping period.

"We don't have a lot of wind energy development technical experts within BLM at this time. We were looking to Wind Powering America to assist us in providing input about the overall project location, the types of turbines that they are looking at utilizing, the array of the turbines, and the overall project capacity," Murdoch said.

With multiple questions pertaining to the environmental impact that the project may have and in order to maintain BLM policy toward keeping land available for multiple uses, Murdoch said that the expertise provided by Wind Powering America was essential.

"We are utilizing Wind Powering America's expertise to assist us with answering some of those questions and ensuring that we can come up with a layout for the turbines that maximizes energy production in line with the proponents' goals but is still in line with BLM's multiple use mission to ensure that we have balanced multiple use across our landscapes," Murdoch said.

Robi Robichaud, Wind Powering America senior engineer, said the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre project has a couple of unique aspects, including an excellent wind resource.

"This site in particular has very high winds, Class 6 winds (speeds between 17.9 and 19.7 mph at 50 meters), so we looked at a number of existing turbines, 1 to 3 MW in size, and some that are coming into the market to determine what would be available and suitable for this particular site," Robichaud said.

According to Robichaud, Wind Powering America also advised on construction project logistics and what is required to bring such a large development to an area with a limited building window during the year due to the long, windy, snowy winters.

The relationship between BLM and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory/Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) began in 2003 with a preliminary assessment of all renewable energy resources on BLM land in the West. Wind Powering America continued to support FEMP by providing technical assistance to BLM in 2005 as they developed their Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) designed to speed the application and approval process for temporary met towers installations for wind resource assessment. The wind industry generally avoided BLM lands as the organization's normal permitting process for obtaining permission for met towers was too time consuming and costly. The PEIS established clear guidelines and processes, which helped fuel the wind industry's interest in wind development on public lands.

More recently, Wind Powering America hosted 42 BLM project managers, realty specialists, and renewable energy specialists at the Wind Energy Applications Training Symposium (WEATS) workshop at the National Wind Technology Center outside of Boulder, Colorado. During the 3-day workshop, BLM employees met with Wind Powering America and industry experts and learned about wind turbine technologies, wind economics, siting, radar, and transmission issues pertaining to wind energy development.

"During the first two days of the workshop, we tried to get everyone on the same page by doing an intensive 'Wind 101' to learn the language, technologies, and industry protocol to prepare BLM personnel for wind developers approaching BLM. When they acquire permits for met towers and begin the steps after the wind resource is confirmed, they petition BLM for putting up a wind farm, but how much land can a developer assess with two met towers? What is realistic? What types of things should BLM look for? What kind of performance should they expect from the turbines? What are the economics of wind projects? We tried to cover all aspects of what BLM employees can expect to see so they can ask pertinent questions and make informed decisions," Robichaud said.

"On the third day, we brought industry people, wind developers, and turbine manufacturers to talk to BLM about their turbines or 'how they do business.' It fostered some great back-and-forth Q&A. There was no project money on the table, so the discussion was hypothetical but also drawn from real experiences by both the developers and BLM. I think that's one of the things that makes our WEATS workshops unique. It connects the federal clients with real people who do the work. That way they're not just listening to the researchers; they also get the developers' and the manufacturers' perspectives."

The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project is not the first Wyoming project to utilize BLM land. The Foote Creek Rim Wind Project began commercial operation in 1999 and is partially located on public lands managed by the BLM.

The BLM received the application for the Chokecherry Sierra Madre project in January 2008. The agency is currently continuing an environmental analysis of the project and developing the draft environmental impact statement, which will be available for public comment in late spring of 2011. Wind Powering America will continue to work with the BLM throughout the project.

This information was last updated on December 21, 2010