First and foremost, the idea of wind “versus” solar is a false dichotomy. Both are necessary to create a sustainable energy future. Solar projects only generate energy when the sun is shining, and therefore are complemented well by wind projects that generate power throughout the day and night. Pairing energy storage with solar can help shift a portion of the energy output, but in order to have a clean energy generation mix that reliably and cost-efficiently produces energy around the clock, wind energy is undoubtedly a crucial piece of the puzzle. ConnectGen has a roughly equal amount of wind and solar megawatts under development across the United States.
Wind turbines are not the sole solution to our energy needs, but I would like to clarify a few of Mr. Montoya’s points about their drawbacks.
Although solar project areas are smaller than wind project areas, they completely cover that area with solar panels. The Rail Tie Wind Project would occupy less than 2% of its project area with turbines and project infrastructure, leaving the remaining 98% available for cattle grazing and to continue providing habitat for big game and other wildlife.
Second, he takes issue with the carbon footprint associated with constructing wind turbines. Wind projects offset the carbon footprint associated with turbine manufacturing and construction within the first six months of operations; in fact, according to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab’s analysis of lifecycle carbon emissions, wind energy has a smaller carbon footprint than both solar and nuclear energy, while all three have a much lower footprint than conventional fossil-fuel generation.
Third, modern industrial wind turbines are very different from the residential wind turbine Mr. Montoya considered installing on his property in 2008. The turbines to be used for the Rail Tie Wind Project can operate in wind speeds up to 60 miles per hour, not 30 miles per hour. Additionally, modern wind turbines can detect ice buildup on the blades and shut down as necessary to reduce the risk of ice throw. These improvements in safety and efficiency, along with Wyoming’s exceptional wind resource and the economic benefits of wind energy, are driving a proliferation of wind projects around the state.
These wind projects do not just generate clean energy; they also bring much-needed economic benefits to the communities that embrace them. For example, Laramie County and the city of Cheyenne had anticipated losing about 25% of their sales tax revenue in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, thanks to the new wind projects under construction near Cheyenne, sales tax revenue actually increased by 20.5% compared to 2019.
Wind energy can help us make up our budget deficit in the short term while improving economic diversity and environmental sustainability in the long term. I encourage Albany County to embrace an all-of-the-above approach to renewable energy and support both wind and solar project development for the economic and environmental benefit of our community.
Read More: Wind and solar are both great choices for Wyoming | Contributed Columns