In 2005 giant wind machines appeared on the skyline southeast of Idaho Falls, Idaho. The 65 megawatt Wolverine Creek energy project was one of three U.S. projects begun in 2005 by a company called Invenergy.
Today Wolverine Creek is a veritable wind farm, utilizing 43 turbines. The company hopes to install another 80 turbines eventually.
The wind needs to blow about fourteen miles an hour, on a fairly regular basis, to make wind a cost-effective power source. It does that near Idaho Falls. "We have a lot of bad hair days in this area," says Bonneville County Commissioner Roger Christensen.
The wind turns the blades, which spins a shaft, that connects to a generator that makes electricity. The power is then sent through transmission lines to the grid, located 16 1/2 miles away. Each turbine can generate 1.5 megawatts, enough to power about 500 households for a year.
"They generate this, and it goes into the overall grid," explains Commissioner Christensen. "Any type of an energy system, to be healthy, has to have a pretty good mix. And I think renewable energy needs to be in that mix."
But not everyone appreciates these perched propellors. People have complained about the sound, the view, and the danger to wildlife. In some parts of the country, that resistance has stalled wind farm expansion.
Invenergy spokesman Doug Carter believes "the sound is a non-issue, if you come out and listen to them." But he says the view shed issues are real. "The community has every right to be concerned about their view sheds. I guess communities have to make the choice between what's beneficial for the community and what are the trade-offs."
Commissioner Christensen says the dangers to wildlife have not materialized at the Idaho Falls wind farm. "It's just been so far trouble free, and we get very few complaints about it. They just sit there day and night and do their thing."
One limitation of wind power in southeastern Idaho is the power grid itself. "The constraining factor... is the transmission grid in the western United States is old," says Doug Carter. "And it's filled. If you imagine a pipe full of water, oil, or gas, there's not a lot of room left in the transmission grid." He believes private corporations should step in and build more transmission lines. "If we can work through those transmission grid issues... then I think the future is bright."
"We've got an opportunity to do some good things for this country," Carter says. "Wind energy's one of them... Our consumption of power is staggering. This provides an opportunity for clean, renewable energy into the power grid."