Wyoming, the country’s top coal producer, is wrangling support for wind power

Just off Interstate 80 in Sinclair, Wyoming (population 415), the Sinclair Refinery processes crude oil from the United States and Canada. Every day the refinery, one of the region’s largest, converts 85,000 barrels of oil to gasoline, diesel, propane, and other petroleum products. But the town may soon become famous for a cleaner sort of energy, as the gateway to the biggest wind farm in the Western Hemisphere.

South of the highway here lies the Overland Trail Ranch, 500 square miles of rugged terrain where several thousand black angus graze among the dusty buttes and sagebrush prairie. Soon the feeding cattle will wander beneath a thousand towering wind turbines. Called the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, the ranch, owned by Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz, could potentially generate up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity­—enough to power one million homes. The project has been crawling through the regulatory process for more than a decade, but if all goes as planned, the first 500 turbines will be churning out electricity by the end of 2020, and the remainder will be up and running sometime in 2023.

In the ten years since Power Company of Wyoming (the Anschutz Corporation subsidiary running the project) began working to create Chokecherry and Sierra Madre, wind energy has boomed nationwide. The cost of wind power has dropped by 66 percent since 2009. Over the past 15 years, wind has gone from being a trace component of the U.S. power mix to holding a 6 percent share, and today, it’s a leading source of renewable energy in the nation.

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