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Ogmius Newsletter

Research Highlight

Wind farm in Wyoming

Shawn OlsonOur Research Highlight describes a new project conducted by ENVS graduate student Shawn Olson under the direction of Max Boykoff: “Power Politics: The political ecology of wind farm opposition in Wyoming”. Shawn received a BA in Environmental Studies and Social Movements from The Evergreen State College. Since then, she’s spent several seasons as an environmental educator in Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains and as a wilderness therapy field leader in the deserts of south-central Utah. At the University of Colorado Boulder, her focus is on the politics, history, and ideological polarizations that lead to conflicts over public lands in the American West. Shawn is the co-author of two books: Defending Wild Washington: A Citizen’s Action Guide (Mountaineers Books, 2004) and Community and Copper in a Wild Land (Wrangell Mountains Center & National Park Service, 2005). This project was funded through a scholar’s award from The Center to Advance Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences (CARTSS) at the University of Colorado.

Power Politics:
The political ecology of wind farm opposition in Wyoming

by Shawn Olson

Wind Farm BillboardRenewable energy is recognized nationally and globally as an important strategy for climate change mitigation, energy security, and economic development. However, due to a growing opposition movement against industrial-scale development of energies such as wind power and solar photovoltaic systems, these benefits will not be realized without further understanding of and solutions for community resistance. In the American West, utility-scale wind poses significant changes to the countryside – undeveloped open space that rural residents conceive of as central to their way of life – which could impact individuals who use surrounding landscapes in the production of livelihoods and subsistence.

This project seeks to contribute to an understanding of this opposition movement with the goal of proposing conflict mitigation strategies that simultaneously aid rapid climate mitigation while empowering rural communities. This research examines social conflict over wind energy development in Wyoming and investigates claims made regarding unfair burden-benefit distribution, attachments to unindustrialized natures, and the (not insignificant) visual and physical landscape changes that are a result of utility-scale wind farms.To approach the interface of differential access to power and contestations over renewable energy development, we bring into conversation the literature of political ecology. We take for our case study the three-year battle over a 100 MW wind farm in Converse County, Wyoming, where a local opposition group has stalled the project and rallied local residents against the developer.

A webcast of Shawn’s talk about this project can be viewed here.

Shawn Olson
Center for Science & Technology Policy Research