The most populous state in the region, and the one with largest installed wind power capacity is Colorado. Denver, the state capital and the only city of its size for more than 500 miles in any direction, has long been the regional hub for all sorts of industry and transportation, not least the energy-related fields of oil and mining — and the wind power industry is no different. The Mile High City with its sprawling metropolitan area is home to a number of federal agencies concerned with wind power, and through the state's higher education system, wind energy research is a high priority. The metropolitan area is home to major turbine manufacturing facilities, while a few hours south lies the world's largest turbine tower manufacturing plant.
Colorado is looking to more than double its installed wind capacity in the coming years, with 1.4GW of projects in the pipeline. The other three states in the Rocky Mountain Empire have yet to harness fully their vast wind energy reserves, but plans are afoot in these areas to do just that.
With a 3.3GW pipeline, Wyoming has big plans for wind expansion and export, as has Montana, with some 1.4GW of wind projects planned or under development. Montana has plans to establish itself as a supply chain centre, having just welcomed a turbine manufacturing plant of its own.
Region poised to go large
In terms of installed capacity, Colorado is the regional leader, but by the end of 2011 each state in the region is set to become home to a number of the country's largest wind farms. Wyoming's 3.3GW pipeline is dominated by the state's largest upcoming scheme, the 2GW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind energy project. So far only the land has been purchased; developer and owner the Power Company of Wyoming is addressing conservation concerns raised by the scheme and hopes to begin construction in 2012.
Other large projects in the state include Duke Energy's 200MW Top of the World plant in Converse County and Horizon Wind Energy's 300MW Simpson Ridge.
Pattern Energy's 300MW Pole Canyon plant in Huerfano County is due to go live in 2013. Further down the line the potentially massive Cheyenne Ridge Wind Project will start coming online in 2011. If the project is completed to its upper potential it could provide up to 600MW of electricity, enough to power 180,000 Colorado homes. A further two 250MW projects are planned in the state – BP's Cedar Creek II in northern Colorado and Cedar Point 80 miles east of Denver, being developed by Renewable Energy Systems Americas.
In Utah, Milford Wind plant, now under construction, is to provide 203MW from 97 turbines and is due online this year. In Montana a number of other large schemes are in the pipeline, including Iberdrola's 309MW Rim Rock facility and Horizon's 300MW two-phase Martinsdale project, the 243MW second phase of which is in the permitting process.
Home to world's biggest tower factory
Metropolitan Colorado is the hub for turbine production in the region and in terms of supply chain in the Mountain States, turbine manufacture Vestas is the big player. Despite its North American headquarters being in Portland, Oregon, the Danish firm operates three plants in Colorado, with a fourth due to open in 2011. The plants are a blades factory in Windsor, a nacelle assembly factory in Brighton, and a tower manufacturing facility — the world's largest — in Pueblo.
The company has recently announced plans to hire more than 1000 new workers across its three plants in response to a surge in orders. Firms from metropolitan Denver and its surroundings wider manufacturing base, such as the once-mighty Gates Corporation, also provide raw materials and specialist parts for turbines such as hydraulics and tower platforms and doors.
Further afield, the mining town of Butte, Montana is home to turbine manufacturer Führlander AG's North American manufacturing base. The plant employs 150 people and builds machine housings for the company's FL 2500 turbine. The German firm chose Butte for its available industrial workforce, proximity to Canada and good transport links to other US states.
Haven for wind research
Colorado is home to many federal agencies covering all aspects of the national economy and, in terms of government wind research, it is again the big hitter in the Mountain states. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the federal government's flagship renewable energy research institution, and its National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) are based in metropolitan Denver. Roughly a quarter of the NREL's $150 million budget in 2009 went on its work in wind power and the two bodies have proved to be huge draws to turbine manufacturers and their research arms looking for a location.
With its headquarters in Boulder, 30 miles north-west of Denver, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is the federal government's main weather and climate research facility. The NCAR and the other federal research institutions collaborate with the state's universities to form the Center for Research and Education in Wind, with a primary focus on turbine development.
From the private sector, Siemens' North American wind research and development arm is also based in Boulder. The company cited proximity to the NREL and the NWTC as reasons for their choice. The University of Wyoming's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences has been researching wind energy for more than a decade. It focuses on blade aerodynamics and wind flows, as well as training graduates to provide the state with a pool of skilled wind power workers. It is planning a dedicated wind research building for its campus in Laramie, Wyoming.