BLM advances final phase of massive Wyo. wind project

Source: By Scott Streater, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, October 21, 2019

Wind farm in Wyoming. Photo credit: CGP Grey/Wikimedia Commons

The Bureau of Land Management has completed evaluation of the final phase of a massive Wyoming wind energy project that when built will be the largest power-producing wind farm in North America.

The environmental assessment (EA) released today analyzes a site-specific plan of development for the final 396 wind turbines that make up Phase II of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in southeast Wyoming.

BLM approved the plan for the project’s first 500 wind turbines in the final days of the Obama administration, which considered the project a top priority (E&E News PM, Jan. 18, 2017).

The massive Chokecherry and Sierra Madre project is expected to string together roughly 900 or so turbines across about 220,000 acres. The full project would be capable of producing up to 3,000 megawatts — enough to power nearly a million homes — and rank among the largest electricity-producing wind projects in the world.

Both phases of the $5 billion project were expected to include 500 wind turbines each. But technological advances in recent years will enable Phase II to produce the same output of electricity with only 396 turbines, said Kara Choquette, a spokeswoman for Power Company of Wyoming LLC, the project builder.

“It’s really gratifying to see this last piece of site-specific BLM environmental analysis in place; it’s a great milestone to meet indeed,” Choquette said in an emailed statement.

The EA is now open for a 15-day public comment period running through Nov. 4. Depending on the type and volume of public comments received, BLM would issue a decision record approving the plan.

The project has been under review by BLM since 2008. Power Company of Wyoming in May submitted the Phase II plan that is the focus of the latest EA.

The 396 turbines are scheduled to be completed in 2026, Choquette said.

Power Company of Wyoming, a subsidiary of Denver-based Anschutz Corp., has been working the past two years to build access roads, wind turbine pads and other infrastructure necessary to operate the first phase.

Construction on the actual 500 turbines under Phase I is not expected to begin until 2022; it will take about two years to complete, Choquette said.

Power Company of Wyoming spent years and millions of dollars in an effort to carefully map the exact locations of the turbines so they avoid at-risk wildlife, such as greater sage grouse.

Among other things, the company conducted detailed eagle and raptor nest and use surveys across Anschutz’s 320,000-acre Overland Trail Ranch, where the wind farm will be built.

The company developed an eagle conservation plan with the Fish and Wildlife Service for Phase I; it also worked with the service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to develop a bird and bat conservation strategy for the first phase.

“This project is a great example of the importance of partnerships between the BLM, the state of Wyoming, our local communities, external groups, cooperating agencies, and the project proponent, Power Company of Wyoming,” said BLM Rawlins Field Manager Dennis Carpenter in a statement.

Carpenter added, “The project fulfills many of the agency’s priorities, including sustainably developing energy resources, modernizing our infrastructure, increasing revenues and creating jobs in local communities while balancing protections for other resources in the project area.”