Wyoming board gives key OK for Carbon County wind farm

Source: By BENJAMIN STORROW, Casper Star-Tribune staff writer, • Posted: Monday, August 11, 2014


The largest proposed onshore wind farm in the United States cleared a key regulatory hurdle after state regulators voted unanimously to approve the nearly $5 billion project.

The Industrial Siting Council voted 7-0 to approve Power Company of Wyoming’s proposal to build up to 1,000 turbines in Carbon County. The council is responsible for permitting large-scale industrial projects in Wyoming.

Chokecherry and Sierra Madre, as the project is known, could produce up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity, or 10 million megawatts hours annually.

“We are very pleased that the council voted to grant PCW a permit for its wind project,” company vice president and general counsel Roxane Perruso said in a statement. “This is another significant milestone in the development process.”

Wednesday’s ruling moved the project one step closer to reality. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is expected to release a pair of environmental assessments later this year.

Power Company of Wyoming has also applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an eagle take permit, which would allow the company to kill a designated number of raptors each year in exchange for implementing conservation measures at its facility. A decision is expected in 2015.

In its application to the state, the company said it intends to provide $1.68 billion in its own funding to build the project. The remaining $3.11 billion will be financed through debt.

It has already spent $45 million to date on the project.

Power Company of Wyoming is a fully owned subsidiary of Anschutz, which owns crude oil pipelines and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, among other properties.

Council members effusively praised the company’s application with the state, noting that no one spoke in opposition to the project during the two-day public hearing.

Siting council chairman Shawn Warner, a Powell Republican, said he entered the hearing apprehensive about permitting such a large project.

“They just did a first-class job in submitting what was required,” he said. “They literally left no stone unturned.”

An average of 945 construction jobs are expected to be created at the project’s peak, with the workforce expected to average 429 between May and November.

Council members said that housing those workers was a particular concern they had entering the hearing.

The company addressed those worries with plans for a man camp during construction. If there is a need for further housing, the company will bus employees to and from Laramie, said Richard O’Gara, a Cheyenne Democrat.

“It was probably the most professional presentation I’ve ever seen,” he said. “There was virtually no opposition.”

Attempts to reach Voices of the Valley, a local group that had opposed the project in the past, were unsuccessful.

Chokecherry and Sierra Madre is expected to employ 114 people once it becomes operational. Total tax revenues over its eight-year construction timeline and 20 years in operation are estimated at $780.5 million.

The company still needs to negotiate a power purchase agreement with utilities to buy the wind farm’s electricity, said Kara Choquette, a Power Company of Wyoming spokeswoman.

The aim is to sell electricity to Arizona, California and Nevada, she said, noting that all three states have renewable-energy standards requiring utilities to boost their supply of power generated by technologies like wind and solar.