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Reclaimed Coal Mine Gets 'Green' Makeover

A decommissioned coal mine in the Rocky Mountain state of Wyoming is about to get a new lease on life. Although it no longer produces enough coal to generate electricity, the company that owns the land has found a new way to squeeze more power from the abandoned site -- without hurting the environment. VOA's Mil Arcega explains.

Coal generates more than half of the electricity needed to satisfy the energy demands of the United States. But what happens when a mine's coal runs out -- as it has at the Glenrock coal mine in Wyoming?

Leslie Blythe, with the Rocky Mountain Power Company, says federal laws require that decommissioned coal mines be returned back to their original state or as close to it as possible. She explains, "You'll see that it is just a rolling prairie again. The antelope are out there, rabbits and whatnots. It has been reclaimed to its natural state."

But after producing more than 100 million tons of coal over the last 40 years, the mine's owners say they have bigger plans for the 6,000 hectare site. Although its below ground resources have long been depleted, above ground, there is an abundant, renewable source of energy -- the wind.

"This is a very energetic site. We've had wind monitors out here for the last year or so. We've determined that it is a very windy site as you can see today. We have a lot of wind out here today," Blythe pointed out.

To harness that power, the Glenrock Wind Energy Project plans to build 66 giant wind turbines, capable of producing nearly 100 megawatts of electricity.

County Commissioner Chairman Jim Wilcox says not only will the wind farm produce clean, emission-free electricity, it will also provide a new source of revenue and jobs for the local economy. "There will be a slight increase in our tax revenues from the sales tax and the property tax. But we'll also have job creations. They'll be jobs created both in the construction and the maintenance operations of the wind farm."

The American Wind Energy Association says wind farms like this one provide less than one percent of America's electricity needs. But that number is expected to rise to six percent in the next decade.

Barring any regulatory delays, the Glenrock wind farm expects to start operations in October 2008.