I am writing in response to Emma Clute’s Letter to the Editor published on July 19 titled “The Rail Tie Wind Project is an unethical endeavor.” That letter contains several false and misleading statements, and I would like to set the record straight.
First, the letter mischaracterizes the efficiency of wind turbines and how the electric grid balances various energy resources. Wind is a variable power resource, but that does not mean wind projects are backed up by a coal or gas plant. The variability of wind can be forecasted and used to complement other power generation. No electricity source runs 100% of the time, including coal, gas, and nuclear plants. Grid operators have decades of experience managing changes in supply and demand. Sudden, unexpected outages at large conventional power plants are more costly and difficult to manage than the gradual, predictable changes in wind output.
Wind projects do not burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, and as a result, do not emit any air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, or particulate matter during operation. Although all types of energy generation create carbon emissions during manufacturing and construction (known as the “carbon footprint”), a typical utility-scale wind project repays its carbon footprint in six months or less, which means the project provides decades of zero emission energy. Wyoming has one of the best wind resources in the United States, and ConnectGen has analyzed more than five years of wind data collected from the project area. Based on this wind data, the Rail Tie Wind Project will generate approximately two million megawatts of emission-free energy each year. To generate an equivalent amount of energy, a coal plant would produce over 2.2 million tons of CO2 annually, and a natural gas plant would produce 920,000 tons.
Second, the letter falsely states that above certain wind speeds, wind turbines continue to spin but do not generate power. This is incorrect. Above certain wind speeds, the entire turbine may shut down for safety purposes, but under no scenario would a wind turbine be spinning but not generating power. Furthermore, even when factoring in the extreme winds common to Albany County, the five years of collected wind data clearly supports that the Rail Tie Wind Project is sited in an excellent wind resource for project operations.
Third, the letter misstates that wind turbines source components, such as rare earth minerals, from “foreign sources complicit in modern slavery.” Wind turbines are made of steel and concrete, as is nearly every man-made structure in modern society, such as cars, buildings, and conventional power plants. In fact, over 95% of wind turbines in the United States do not contain any rare earth materials, because they use gear boxes (electromagnets made of copper and steel) rather than direct drive machines in the generator. Additionally, the few manufacturers that used rare earth minerals in the past are actively working to reduce their level of use. If you want to boycott rare earth minerals being used in consumer products, turn your attention to iPhones and flat screen TVs.
Finally, I come from several generations of hard-working cattle ranchers, and the LTE’s statement that the Rail Tie Wind Project “exploits financially vulnerable ranchers” is naive and disrespectful to our landowners. These ranchers are exercising their rights as property owners to support wind development, which allows them to continue to prosper and pass the land down for generations to come. Wind energy has given American ranchers and farmers another source of income in tough times. We are fortunate to have these forward-thinking ranchers that are helping to provide much needed economic development to our local community. This is a winning combination.
Deby Forry is a resident of Laramie and the Local Outreach Director for the Rail Tie Wind Project