While Wyoming was busy contemplating adding more taxes to its wind energy developers, most of its neighboring states were laying out the welcome mat for alternative energy sources.
In Colorado Xcel Energy’s proposed $1 billion Rush Creek Wind Project got unanimous final approval from the Elbert County Board of Commissioners in early February, leaving Xcel free to plan the start of construction by mid-spring. The Rush Creek project will consist of 300 turbines and a 90-mile transmission line spanning 90,000 acres across five counties. This project was announced in April, 2016 – which means that it was approved and able to start construction in less than a year.
Colorado passed a law in 2004 requiring public utilities to use wind and solar to produce electricity, since then lawmakers have increased that percentage twice, with a new target of 30 percent renewables by 2020.
In Montana a 480-scre solar farm is being proposed outside of Billings. It would be Montana’s largest solar project and the first on public land, with money from the lease going to support public schools. To begin with, those lease payments will be about $124,800 per year and could grow to more than a million a year, according to Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
The growth of solar in Montana is happening despite the Montana Public Service Commission’s move last June to suspend the guaranteed rate of $66 per megawatt hour for smaller solar projects (no larger than 3 MW). Ending the rate left the number of solar projects in Montana hoping to sell power to NorthWestern Energy to 10.
Montana’s wind energy – which has recently been compared to consistently more productive than the Columbia River Gorge – is currently bumping up against a lack of transmission lines. Existing transmission lines to Spokane, Seattle, Boise and Portland are all largely reserved for other power sources. So instead of generating 5,700 megawatts like the Columbia River Gorge, Montana generates only 700 MW from wind, according to the Montana DEQ.
In Utah, three cities have officially committed to transitioning completely to renewable energy in the future. Moab was only the latest, where the city council voted unanimously to be 100 percent renewable by 2032. Park City and Salt Lake City have made similar commitments.
Utah has a diverse energy portfolio with the state’s Beaver County serving as the poster child for renewable energy. From the expected wind farms to methane digesters converting hog manure into electricity to geothermal energy to hydroelectric plants in the Beaver Mountains to the recently permitted solar farms -Beaver County will soon have five types of renewable energy existing on a commercial level within a 50-mile radius.
Idaho enjoys a wealth of hydroelectric power, which according to the American Council on Renewable Energy, supplies about three quarters of the state’s electricity – giving it one of the lowest power costs in the nation. Wind energy provided about 16 percent of net electricity in 2015 (a drought year, where hydro dropped to just 54 percent of the total energy supplied). The rich volcanic formations also offer a high potential for geothermal energy, but that resource has not been explored yet.
Aside from corn-based ethanol capacity, other alternative energy sources have not gotten much attention in Nebraska – coal is by far the top energy source for the state. While more than 90 percent of the Nebraska has conditions suitable for commercial-scale wind power, it got less than 10 percent of total net electricity from renewables in 2015, the most recent year with data available, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.