CHEYENNE -- For many residents and policymakers in Wyoming, wind energy is the future
But even as wind turbines have gone up around the state, and hundreds of thousands of acres are being eyed for future wind farms, there's been very little hard data to indicate exactly how much Wyoming can benefit from the nascent industry.
That is, until now.
In a presentation at the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority's quarterly board meeting Tuesday in Cheyenne, Eric Lantz, a policy analyst at the Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory, painted a more detailed picture about what Wyoming can expect to reap from its wind.
Data from other states indicates that building Wyoming wind energy projects that total 9,000 megawatts of electricity will create about 5,500 full-time-equivalent jobs in the state in the construction industry alone, he said. However, that just means there will be enough paid work hours to equal the hours worked by 5,500 full-time employees, he said -- only a fraction of that number will be permanent jobs.
Erecting the wind turbines will create about 450 permanent workers in the state, he said.
And that doesn't include all the new transmission lines that will have to be set up to transport the electricity to the power-hungry West Coast.
Looking to other states as an example, Lantz said that the first 1,000 megawatts of wind power projects in Colorado created 1,700 construction jobs, generated $4 million annually in property taxes and paid out $2.5 million per year in landowner payments.
The added benefit, he said, is that much of that money went to poorer rural areas of Colorado.
However, Lantz said that the real boost that wind energy will bring to Wyoming's economy will be in the ripple effects it causes.
Most significantly, he said wind turbine and blade manufacturers could be lured to the state.
"I don't know that Wyoming is considered a manufacturing powerhouse in the country," Lantz said. "At the same time, when you're installing gigawatts of wind power -- which is what we're looking at -- that's a pretty good motivation for potential blade manufacturers or power manufacturers to come to this state and install manufacturing facilities."
Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, said several wind energy manufacturing companies have expressed interest in building facilities in Wyoming.
Anderson said he couldn't give specifics as the information was proprietary.
"I would just simply say that these people are real, they're here," he said. "And they're very, very credible."
Wind energy will help Wyoming's economy in less noticeable ways as well, Lantz said.
All those wind energy workers, for example, will spend their newly earned money in their communities, he said.
"I think if you talk to any community where a wind project has been built, they can tell you that when workers do come in and either stay in hotels or eat at their restaurants, or so on, that's a pretty significant boost to their local economy," Lantz said.
Anderson said the hard data Lantz presented is essential for state policymakers as they look over what they hope will be Wyoming's next big industry.
While the wind energy industry will likely never grow to the size of Wyoming's other energy resource industries -- coal, oil and natural gas -- it will help to even out the boom-bust cycle those other industries suffer from, Anderson said.
"It has, I think, the ability to help levelize our economy because we know what a constant wind is in our state," he said.
Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at (307) 632-1244 or firstname.lastname@example.org