From New York Times, I'm Michael Borrow. This is The Daily. Wind energy is a cornerstone of President Biden's climate agenda, is becoming a popular target for Republican leaders and pundits.
He's not OK with energy. He wants windmills, the windmills, the windmills that don't work when you need them to market as an unreliable eyesore.
People who support wind farms as a rule live very far from wind farms that in their telling, is being forced on the country by out of touch liberals. How would you like a massive power plant in your backyard humming and buzzing and chopping up power in rural America? That's what a wind turbine is your first.
Why are local conservative lawmakers embracing wind farms today?
My colleague Deon Searcy traveled to Wyoming to find out. It's Tuesday, March 16th. Don, you recently returned from a reporting trip to Wyoming, why Wyoming?
Well, I knew that Wyoming was one of the reddest states in the nation. People there supported President Trump, you know, overwhelmingly in both elections. This is a state that has powered the nation for generations in coal. You know, people really latched on to Trump's promise to bring back coal there. And I learned that one of the nation's biggest wind farms was being built there. And so I headed to the home of that wind farm, which is a town called Rollin's in a county called Carbon County.
It's actually called Carbon County. That's a little on the nose.
Yeah. People say there's so much coal in this part of Wyoming and in Wyoming in general, like, you can swing a three iron and you'll be able to mine all of it. I mean, all it takes.
And what did you find when you got there? What I found in Rollin's was a community that was bustling.
Adventure awaits, embrace the landscape, escape the crowds, Carbon County Wild, a little town, about 9000, which is, you know, probably a medium sized town for Wyoming.
But, you know, we had a really nice downtown coffee shop, a bar, that kind of thing. People coming and going.
Get your west on Wyoming's carbon cap. And the person who I met with there who showed me around town is a guy called Terry Wykeham. He's the mayor of Rawlence and he loves Wyoming.
It's it's a great place to do business and to live. It's as good as it gets to the best fishing, the best hunting ever and best place in the world. Eat Mexican food, most warm and loving people you've ever been around. He loves the views.
He loves the landscapes. You know, if you get tired of people drive over one hill and you won't see anybody for hours, he should be on the tourism board.
The way he talks, the way he talks about it, not all people would like it here because the wind blows and and the winners are a little bit rough, but most beautiful place in the whole world for summertime. You just fall in love with the place. You know, he loves it.
I mean, a lot of people there are like Terry, he really is kind of an embodiment of the zeitgeist of the state.
I moved to Rollins in nineteen seventy eight. The oil field was booming as well as the coal mines are going full blast. It was kind of tough to rent a place and whatnot. But what kept me here was, number one, the opportunity, because I totally believe quality of life begins with a paycheck.
Did Terry ever work in the coal mines or in the oil industry? Now, he didn't. He kind of worked profiting off of those industries. You know, when there's a boomtown situation going on, I mean, their jobs for everyone, right. In all kinds of fields. For example, he ended up working in a sign making business where he would print billboards and signs for coal mines. That was a lot of his work was, you know, working with the industries, but not directly for them.
So the people in those industries become his clients. His clients, his customers were coal miners for many years.
So like many Americans who live in coal country or oil country. Those industries are vital to him and to his sense of himself and the community. That's exactly right. I mean, really, people have a lot of their identity and whaling wrapped up in coal.
When I first moved there, it was like coal will never go away. We've got a lot of it. It's just a lot of pride in power in the United States with energy.
This is the industry that put food on the table to put their kids through college, and they're proud of it.
And how would you describe Terrys politics, his worldview?
Terry is conservative. He voted for Trump in both elections. And he is a huge supporter of the industry that made Wyoming what it is and that is fossil fuels.
I'm not a true believer in when you say climate change, Al Gore's face comes into my vision. I'm not a radical climate change believer, OK? I'm just not I don't know. You'd have to talk a long time to convince me that I should take a different viewpoint. I'm sorry.
He just doesn't buy it. So I wonder what happens to people like Terri and to this community when inevitably, as we all know, these local industries, especially coal, starts to enter a period of decline?
Well, when that happened in Carbon County in in the 80s, when mines started closing down, it was devastating. People's identities were suddenly pulled out from under them. The town of Rollin's used to be twice as big as it is now. I mean, you know, half the town moved away and there just were no jobs. And it wasn't just the coal miners. People like Terry saw his business decline. All the industries that profited off of the coal mining situation there were all just cratered.
It was really hard for everyone. You know, when they closed the coal mine, that's like one day you go to work and you're making, you know, exceptionally good money for the area, and then the next day you go in and you don't have a job. A lot of houses got repossessed, civil service stations closed, and then several restaurants closed.
It sounds pretty devastating. Yeah, it was. I mean, can you imagine one day just, hey, there's no no place to work. It all happened within about a year, year and a half. And it was pretty sudden, if you will. You know, all of us lost a little bit when they closed those coal mines. Everyone had to make this dramatic shift to figure out what they were going to do next, how are they going to survive?
How is the town and how is Carbon County going to survive?
Hmm. But of course, Terry, Wykeham doesn't work in that industry, so what ends up happening to him? Well, he saw Carbon County, you know, really, really struggling to figure out what was next for it and what was going to become of it with all these mines closing down. He was a business guy. He had a lot of experience and a lot of jobs. And he decided that he could put that business acumen to use and he decided to run for county commissioner.
You know, the fact of the matter is there was a lot of people walking around on their bottom lip. You know, the government is not good at running businesses and the government, whether it be city or county or whatever, is a lot of times not good at anything about business. And so I felt that me being a businessman, I would bring a new perspective.
He knows that he is there as a representative of the business community and he can maybe start to make some decisions that will keep Carbon County on the map.
Mm hmm. And what are those decisions? What kind of options does Carbon County and this commission really have at this point? Well, around the late 2000s, developers start approaching Terry and coming before the commission with ideas about building giant wind farms with wind, it was kind of a gold rush, if you will, and everybody and anybody wanted to get in the wind business.
I think at first he was pretty intrigued, a decent amount of money in tax revenue that the county could get. But then all of a sudden, tons of companies start coming before the board.
One particular company was so abrasive. Oh, my God, just trying to bully you into it. And it was like, well, you're going to get all this money. Yeah, but I'm giving up my entire way of life, you know, just stuff like that used to just drive me crazy.
And then opposition started. What started out as sounding like a cool way to make some cash for the county suddenly seem like, huh, maybe we better slow down and think about this.
There are certain places you don't want wind farms, for instance, to say that it's out where it's all public land and then you permit a wind farm there. Then all of a sudden you Canton's there is hunting. And what that is, is a way of life out here.
It's something almost everybody goes and and they're in their favorite vista, too. Right. Right. That's that's what some people come to Wyoming to see. And we had to reserve certain places like that just because it made common sense.
He kind of realized that he had a situation here and a huge decision to make for the county.
And so what does Terry do? So Terry puts a hold on things. He starts talking to people. He goes all over the state. He talks to other county officials. He goes to the state capital. He talks to lawmakers. He talks to wind developers. He talks to people like everyone around town. He tries to figure out what people are thinking and what what the developers themselves are pitching. What are the long term consequences? What are the short term consequences?
Just how many jobs are these things going to produce? Are they going to be a blight on the landscape?
Mm hmm. He just basically looks around and weighs everything that he's learned and he decides it's in the best interests of the county to start approving some of these things. And he does just that. I mean, he allows some of the wind farms to start to break ground. He is seeing the bigger picture here and that bigger picture is what in his mind. So for Terri, the bigger picture comes down to dollar signs. It has nothing to do with ideology.
It doesn't have anything to do with fossil fuels, emissions, pollution, climate change. It's all about the bottom line. He wants to help Carbon County survive and head into the future and a good place. We'll be right back. This podcast is supported by Facebook 25 years ago, phones weren't smart yet and people still said, fax it to me. The Internet has changed a lot since 1996, but that's the last time comprehensive Internet regulations were passed.
That's why Facebook once updated Internet regulations to set clear guidelines for addressing today's toughest challenges protecting privacy, enabling safe and easy data portability between platforms and more. Learn more about why Facebook supports updated Internet regulations at about that FBI dot dotcoms regulations. So, Don, how does Carbon County start to change once Terry and the commission approve these wind projects?
So it's a real change for Carbon County and for Rollin's itself. You know, workers are coming in. They're spending money at hotels. They're spending money at the local bar and the Rifleman's club. They start seeing, you know, even amid all the decline of fossil fuels, they start seeing real revenue come into their coffers from, you know, sales tax and the other fees that the wind projects have to have to spend. And a new rec center goes up.
You know, improvements are made to the school. You know, things are happening in the town and there's a real difference that's felt.
So this is doing precisely the thing that Terry, Wykeham and his fellow county commissioners had hoped it would do. Absolutely.
But the problem is, is it's not coal. There aren't as many jobs in the end. When wind farm that I toured when I was in Wyoming, it took 300 workers to build some like 50 some turbines. And once it's up and operational, it'll only take 10 workers to operate. And that's for the next 20, 30 years, the life of, you know, the wind farm.
And that's a huge, huge decrease from, you know, a coal mine. Right. Which takes workers constantly, you know, in and out. And and so it's different. But as Terry likes to say, it's something and something is better than nothing.
Like at least these jobs, you know, this handful of jobs will exist.
So as these wind farms start popping up, delivering jobs, not as many jobs as coal, but jobs, what is the reaction to them from the community over time? How does Terry characterize that?
Well, the reaction is pretty mixed. You know, some people like how they look. Some people think the the wind turbines are pretty. What went through your mind the first time you saw the wind turbines propped up on the land?
I loved them, I did, they were surprising to me, but you want to tell his friends, told him that he can't even look at them when he drives by them.
He just averts his eyes.
One of the guys I work with today, I was telling him what I was doing today and his first and I think Terry starts to realize that opposition to them was a lot deeper than he anticipated.
I know there are certain cars that some manufacturers make. I hate looking at them, too, but they're allowed.
And that resistance to these farms eventually cost. What do you mean?
Well, and what happened when you ran for re-election to the commissioner's office the last time?
Well, I won two times in a row, and the last time I lost by twenty four votes.
When Terry ran for reelection to the county commission in twenty fourteen, he lost his seat and he blames wind.
Well, Don, you were there and you talked to lots of residents in the community, I assume many who opposed wind. How do you explain what they were thinking and perhaps why he lost?
I think they just don't like how it looks. I really do think that's part of it.
I think it's you know, they love they all talk about wide open spaces and do think sometimes when I go into rural communities, I walk around a cemetery and like the local town cemetery, I really feel like you get kind of a vibe for the town in in these graveyards.
And I noticed on, you know, a number of gravestones, there were empty landscapes like mountains and trees and whatever etched onto the headstones themselves. And, you know, that's how much people love their empty vistas. They want to be buried for eternity, you know, underneath. And wow.
And I thought that was, you know, that's real. But also, you know, there's this identity thing going on there. What do you think was behind that frustration with wind, even if it was just, you know, those twenty four votes? Well. I think it's because they're more. And because it's new and it's scary, you know, when you have 80 percent of the people that live in our county working in the extraction business, of course they're going to not want to help feed a competitor.
People love coal and they see coal and wind in competition. And, you know, this is a place that I grew up with coal and they don't like it.
They look at it is a you know, I don't look at it as competition. I don't have a choice of wind or coal. I turn off my electricity, it comes on or don't. But a lot of people think or feel that coal is. Being beat up or limited by other sources, hmm? So in this way of thinking, not only is wind an eyesore, it is quite literally undermining the industry essential to so many people's identity. Their wind is literally hurting coal and oil competitively.
And it sounds like the environmental benefit of wind as an alternative, that it's cleaner, that it's far cleaner as a source of energy is not persuasive to those skeptics.
That's how a lot of people feel. Not everyone. But, you know, instead of workers climbing down into the mines now, they're climbing up into wind turbines and not as many of them.
And, you know, they just they just feel like this is a direct affront to their way of life.
You know, you can get rid of wind energy in Beach County if you want, but then we won't have coal. We won't we'll have a limited amount of oil and gas and we won't have wind. It isn't going to bring back coal and oil and gas as far as like people here wanting them because they're greedy energy. Very few percent of the people thought that way about it.
So Terry has lost his seat as county commissioner. In large part, he thinks because of these growing wind projects, where does that leave wind initiatives after 2014? Does it discourage more development? Is it seen as a setback for wind?
I don't really think so. I mean, other wind projects are still coming online and are still, you know, getting approved. And in fact, the very reason that I came to Carbon County is this big giant wind farm right south of town that Terry helped usher in. And it's going to be humongous. You know, construction is still going on and will be going on for a few more years. But, you know, there's something like a thousand turbines and it's big enough to power a city of a million.
And, you know, it's just it's going to be really, really massive and sprawling. And that's Terri's legacy.
So I'm curious, can you tell me a little bit about the chokecherry plant, because Carbon County is likely to be known now as home of the biggest wind farm in the United States instead of coal country.
It might be wind country. Now, how do you feel about that?
Oh, I feel like a champion. I helped make it happen.
You know, they could go anywhere and do whatever they're going to do, but they they chose here and, you know, it's one of those things where we we probably could have worked our tail off and got rid of them. But, man, am I glad we didn't. They're creating jobs where they're spending money downtown. It's just it's just going to get better and better and better. Then how should we be thinking about Terry Wykeham in this very important and interesting moment in the United States debate over really the future of energy?
He pushes through these wind projects, but not because he believes they are an important part of fighting climate change. On the contrary, he doesn't believe in climate change. He sees them purely through an economic lens, and yet he suffers politically for having done that and on those terms.
Well, I think America is filled with climate skeptics like like Terry Whitcomb's. I mean, guys who aren't going to do this kind of work bringing in green energy because, you know, they have some big sense of ideology. I think, you know, a lot of a lot of politicians in the country are practical, especially at the local level. And that's where this change is going to happen. You know, the new president, Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress and, you know, those folks can do a lot for climate.
There's the Paris accord. There's all kinds of high minded big picture climate actions that they can take. But it's going to come down to communities like Rollins, to city councils, to county commissions, to people like Terry Wykeham who are going to make these decisions, you know, in the best interests of the residents in their own towns and cities.
I feel like that's why we hear the new president talking about renewable energy in economic terms. He always talks about these projects as job creators. He does not talk about it purely as a question of climate and the environment. He kind of talks about it the way Terry Wykeham does. And I feel like that's not an accident.
Yeah, I think that's right. I think that Carbon County is a case study for the entire nation when it comes to renewable energy and how we should look at wind and solar and in selling, you know, this move away from fossil fuels. And that became particularly clear, you know, in the recent recent past, because last year all the counties in Wyoming were in the red. All their budgets were just facing these huge, huge deficits. But Carbon County is one of three counties, all of which have wind projects going on to to end the year twenty, twenty, the most awful of years, you know, in the black, they have budget surpluses.
And Terry really knows that that's his that's his work. It all came from wind and he's really proud of it.
And when you are are driving along and look out at these wind turbines or see them spinning in the distance, now, what goes through your mind? Taking money.
It's not going to be an easy sell in a lot of communities, it's just not. And so I think, you know, in order to make the future more green, I think that we're just going to have to figure out what works for different communities and what the best approaches.
It feels like you have an opportunity to really remake yourself as a community here. Oh, absolutely. We're in a biggest transformation ever. When in the world could you ever from the ground up do this? It is like one of the girls that works at the courthouse one day. She just looked at me with this look on her face I wish I could duplicate. And she said, you you do realize this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make Rollin's bigger and better.
And I'm just so fortunate to have the timing of being the mayor at this time. You know, it's it's exciting for me.
Well, Don, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Thanks so much. Terri, thank you so much for spending so much time with us and using up your lunch break to talk to us. I really appreciate it.
Well, I appreciate you drawing attention to my down. Then you send people out here and let me show them around. I would if they come out here and spend any amount of time, they're going to want to move here. Our air is clean and we're good people. On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed President Biden's nominee for secretary of the interior and a key player in his climate agenda, Congresswoman Deb Holland of New Mexico, the first Native American to run a cabinet agency.
The Times reports that Hollande is expected to rapidly expand the development of renewable energy, including wind, which she has repeatedly pushed for in her home state. We'll be right back. With no fees or minimums on checking and savings accounts, banking with Capital One is like the easiest decision in the history of decisions, kind of like choosing to listen to another episode of your favorite podcast. And with our top rated app, you can deposit checks and transfer money any time anywhere, making Capital One an even easier decision.
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That's it for The Daily, I'm Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow. What do they do at Dana Farber Cancer Institute? They solve puzzles against a deadly opponent. One puzzle began by discovering the PDL one pathway, which showed how the immune system can be enabled to attack cancer cells years later. This led to a successful treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma. And later, still, new treatments for melanoma, kidney and other cancers. Learn about a nearly 75 year momentum of discovery at Dana Farber.