Governor’s commentary on Wyoming’s Wind Energy Challenge
Opinion/editorial by Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal
August 20, 2009
The following is drawn from Governor Dave Freudenthal's comments at the Wyoming Wind Symposium in Laramie on August 13, 2009.
There will be a time when future generations look back at the challenges we are addressing today regarding the development of our wind resources. They will compare our actions to those of our predecessors who dealt with the coal boom of the 1970s, and numerous other development peaks in our state's history.
Here's the test: Will we have created an environment where people lookupon wind turbines as a point of progress and something positive for the state, or will people look at what we did and see the monsters that Don Quixote saw in windmills?
We are going to be the generation that sets the basic ground rules for how wind energy is developed in Wyoming. It is going to be developed, but it doesn't need to be rushed.
We have the capacity to generate policies that make sense for us and that respect private property rights. Policies that respect the right of the private economy to develop, respect the fact that we need revenues to build schools and operate governments, but that also strike the balance that is essential to keeping the state the way we want it to be. Because we really do know what we want – we want good jobs, we want time to enjoy our state, we want to protect our special places and we want to pass it all on to our kids.
This is a remarkable opportunity for Wyoming, but only if we adopt policies that say we’re glad to host the wind turbines, but we expect the developers who come to Wyoming and put up wind turbines to do a little more. We expect them to talk about manufacturing plants being in Wyoming, we expect construction facilities to be in Wyoming and we expect the jobs to be in Wyoming. It isn’t the case that we’re going to be some colony that’s going to be really happy to have a bunch of towers sticking up in the air and little else.
We have to come to grips with the fact that there is a different role for local governments with this growth pattern than there has been with most of the others. Yes, the state has to have a role in the way that we’re modifying and clarifying a bit how we manage the Industrial Siting Council, and we have to have a role in the way we’re securing and allocating revenues.
But a number of these development issues are going to have to be sorted out locally. I’m talking about those really hard issues like zoning that have been the political death of many a mayor, city councilman and county commissioner in this state. We’ve got to come to grips with this because there are a whole set of values that need to be reflected in the local decision-making that the state really can’t account for. Local values with regard to viewshed and related property values and all of those things that people come and talk to me about. We have to recognize that this particular pattern of development offers some fairly unique challenges to local authorities--primarily county governments--for resolution of issues related to land use planning. Ultimately, that’s the only way they can be resolved. As we look to the future, it is going to be necessary that we think of a different role for the county commissioners, because at the end of the day, they’re going to be the ones on the hook on an awful lot of these decisions.
The wind energy industry is a great industry, but it can abide by the same rules as everyone else in the context of the sage grouse. Now, it isn’t some obsession with sage grouse that has led me to this point. What I have is an obsession with making sure that the economy of this state continues to function, and it won’t if that bird gets listed. An Endangered Species Act listing of the sage grouse would mean nearly 80 percent of the coal production in Wyoming would be affected, 83 percent of the natural gas production and 64 percent of the oil production would be affected. Almost 40 percent of our private lands would be affected, combined with almost 65 percent of all state grazing leases. And amazingly enough, 95 percent of all the animal units managed by BLM would be affected by a listing of the bird.
I expect the wind industry to do what it can to accommodate the sage grouse not being listed, which is the same as we have asked the coal and oil and gas industries to do. The fact that Al Gore likes wind energy is great, but at the end of the day, we cannot end up with one industry compromising the economy of this state because we’ve decided that wind developers don’t have to live by the same rules as everyone else.
I want to emphasize the need for progress on transmission lines. None of the positive things that we hope will come out of wind energy in this state will happen without transmission. But if you want to have a contentious public meeting, talk about transmission. It brings out the "not in my backyard" in people whom I have known to be so pro-development that you practically could scrape it off them. Generally in this state, we support economic development, but we want it done right. And when all of a sudden it ends up in our backyard, our view changes a lot. The people I know who most adamantly oppose wind energy
are people who have a turbine close to their house, or they’re county commissioners who have dealt with them, or they’re landowners who are worried about power lines. We need to continue to work toward a strategy on how we’re going to site these lines.
This broader discussion brings out a lot of contradictions in us. I spoke in Jackson recently and one of the points I made is that you can’t come to me and say, "Governor, we want to support alternative energy, but, those power lines - I just don’t want them." Now, that doesn’t mean we should be insensitive about people’s private property rights or about how we locate power lines, but as a matter of policy, the state has to be careful that it keeps a fair and open playing field so people can build those power lines. Because without power lines, wind development won’t happen.
We have the capacity in this state to formulate a set of policies that make for a rational business environment for the private sector activities in wind to be both rewarding to them and of great importance to our future. I believe we can do it.