Large wind farms worry environmental group

The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy project could be one of the largest facilities in the world, but an environmental group says it is in the wrong place and will endanger sensitive wildlife habitat areas.

The Biodiversity Conservation Alliance says the Wyoming site is a key area for sage grouse nesting habitats and important golden eagle nesting and feeding areas south of Rawlins, Wyo.

The project, which calls for the construction of 1,000 wind turbines on 219,707 acres of land in Carbon County, was given the go-ahead by the U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Oct. 9. That allows construction to begin as early as 2013 if the project passes other site-specific environmental studies.

The project, with the potential to generate from 2,000 to 3,000 MW of wind power, would be the largest proposed to date. The Power Company of Wyoming LLC (PCW) proposed the project in 2008 on portions of a 320,000-acre working cattle ranch privately owned and operated by The Overland Trail Cattle Company LLC.

“This project should have been sited on the High Plains to the east of the Laramie Range, where it would have had minimal impacts on rare and sensitive wildlife,” said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “Instead, it was sited on prime sage grouse habitats, and the projected impacts on golden eagles are 46 to 64 fatalities each year according to BLM estimates, which for a bird with a low reproductive rate will cause far-reaching problems.”

The Carbon County site is located on a roughly 50/50 combination of alternating private land and federal land under the control of the Bureau of Land Management. An environmental impact statement for the project was also endorsed by Salazar in July.

The Biodiversity group is also concerned that this project will further endanger sage grouse populations, making Endangered Species listing more likely when the sage grouse is up for a final decision in 2015.

“Climate change is an important problem that we need to solve, but we also have a global biodiversity crisis, and we don’t need to make it worse by pursuing wind energy projects like this one that are sited in sensitive habitats for rare and declining wildlife species,” Molvar said.

The Alliance criticized the Interior approval in an Oct. 9 news release.