Interior advances what would be North America’s largest wind project 

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, February 2, 2015

A proposed wind farm that would string together 1,000 turbines across nearly 220,000 acres of public and private lands in southeast Wyoming has reached another regulatory milestone, with the Interior Department greenlighting a series of infrastructure projects that move the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project closer to construction.

The Bureau of Land Management today announced it has issued a decision record and a final environmental assessment (EA) that clears the way to proceed with a new rail facility and rock quarry that will be needed to build the first 500 turbines of the project. When fully built out, the project would have the capacity to produce up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity, making it the largest power-producing wind farm in North America.

The decision record and final EA cover only what the project proponents call the “base infrastructure” associated with the first 500 wind turbines, such as construction of access roads, as well as the quarry to supply materials for road construction and the West Sinclair Rail Facility that will be used to deliver the massive wind turbines to the project site.

Janice Schneider, Interior’s assistant secretary of land and minerals management, signed the decision record. She called the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre proposal an “unprecedented wind energy project.”

“Not only will the project provide an economic boost to Wyoming, but will also be a significant clean energy resource for the nation that is anticipated to power nearly 1 million homes,” Schneider said today in an emailed statement.

BLM already issued a final environmental impact statement (EIS) and record of decision (ROD) in 2012 for the project. But the ROD only authorized BLM to proceed with site-specific environmental analysis for the wind farm, including a 230-kilovolt transmission line.

In addition to the final EA and decision record, BLM today also released a finding of no significant impactconcluding that the project would not cause any significant impacts beyond what was analyzed in the final EIS and ROD nearly three years ago. Dennis Carpenter, manager of BLM Wyoming’s Rawlins Field Office, signed the document.

“It’s another positive step toward receiving all of the federal authorizations that are needed before construction activities may begin,” said Kara Choquette, a spokeswoman for Power Company of Wyoming LLC, the project proponent.

The final EA released today is one of two that BLM is currently conducting as part of the site-specific analysis mandated in the ROD.

The second EA is specific to evaluating the first 500 turbines themselves. The goal is to ensure that the project’s proposed impacts comply with conditions laid out in the ROD, such as surface disturbance limits. BLM will also evaluate planned underground and overhead electrical and communication lines, as well as operation and maintenance facilities.

In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a separate EIS of the project to study its effects on golden eagles, meaning the agency could issue a so-called take permit allowing the project to harm or kill a certain number of eagles each year.

Fish and Wildlife’s EIS would consider only the first 500 wind turbines.

A final EIS approving or denying an eagle take permit is expected in the coming months.

Power Company of Wyoming has applied for a 30-year take permit.

The company has developed extensive mitigation for the project, including a sage grouse monitoring program using GPS technology to understand the birds’ activities and habitat use, as well as an avian monitoring program using advanced radar tracking technology to collect insights into where raptors may fly in relation to the project site. The company is also using the data to develop its science-based eagle conservation strategy.

The company said last year it has employed teams of biologists to map where and when birds use the landscape in the project area in an effort to site turbines in areas that minimize risks.

Wyoming last year approved the permits necessary to build the project (Greenwire, Aug. 8, 2014).

“We’re optimistic that the remaining federal permitting steps can be completed in 2015,” said Choquette, the Power Company of Wyoming spokeswoman.

Click here to read more about the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project.