The Saratoga Sun
Wind project begins final hurdles
Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012
By Joe Elder
PCW is entering the final stages of its permit process for the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind energy project. The company needs a conditional use permit from the county, a permit from the state industrial siting council, and site specific permits from the BLM to begin construction on parts of the project.
Representatives from Power Company of Wyoming fielded a wide range of questions about the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind energy project from Carbon County Planning and Zoning board members at Tuesday’s workshop after the regular planning meeting.
The representatives responded to a question from Shorty Ballard as to whether the turbines were self-sufficient in power use by saying they are as long as a few turbines are turning. In instances when they are all still, they would draw on local power sources but would not cause a drain on those supplies.
To questions about the future of the project in the event the political environment changes and there is less support for wind energy, Garry Miller, vice president of the Land and Environmental division of PCW, said the project was independent of politics.
“We are not funded by tax dollars and we aren’t getting any federal subsidies,” Miller said.
The energy portfolios in the southwestern states that require a portion of their power be supplied by green energy will sustain the project.
“Those won’t go away,” Miller said.
“What happens if (the residents of) California change their statutes and quit requiring green energy?” board member Chad Pickett asked.
Miller said PCW would try to lock in at least 20 years of sales through a power purchase agreement.
According to PCW’s application, the five-year construction plan would begin in July of 2013 and would employ 1,200 people at its peak. The total area of the project covers 222,901 acres and utilizes 1,000 turbines at a cost of $4,839,950,000.
Board member Richard Wilson expressed concern that the application appeared to be for a ‘blanket permit’ that would allow PCW leeway to make significant changes to the project without county oversight.
“You can promise us the moon, but how are we protected?” Wilson asked.
The company will have to apply for site-specific permits from the BLM for things like turbine locations, which will mean continued federal oversight.
Planning Director Sid Fox said the county would retain some oversight by its authority to issue building permits.
Wilson expressed concerns that hunters might experience frustration if the company closed roads due to safety concerns.
Miller said the project should not impact hunting since peak construction will occur in the summer months and will be winding up by October.
Joe Tippetts, associate general counsel for PCW, said the company would give plenty of advance public notice for any road closures.
PCW’s conditional use permit application says it believes there is enough housing to absorb the temporary workers, but if more is needed, the company has plans to build a work camp on Overland Trail Cattle Company property, near what would be its operations center.
Board member Chad Pickett said the public would like to see what the wind turbines will look like and asked if the company could provide some computer-generated simulations.
On its website, PCW says the wind farm will be too far from population centers to affect public health and only portions of the project will be visible from Rawlins, Sinclair, I-80, and Saratoga. The closest wind turbine will be 9 miles northwest of Saratoga in the Sierra Madre section of the project.
A slide from a visual simulation file on BLM’s website shows small, but clearly visible wind turbines in the Happy Jack project near Cheyenne from a vantage point eight miles away.
The company says it expects to pay $28 to $42 million in Carbon County property taxes in its first full year of existence. It also says the project will reduce CO2 emissions by seven to 11 million tons annually.
The turbines burn no fuel and emit no odors.
“Wind turbines use a couple hundred gallons of lubricating oil and a few other fluids, however these fluids are not consumed and are generally only replaced every 5 to 10 years,” Choquette wrote in an email.
Because the project is sited on a 50/50 combination of private and BLM land, PCW had to go through the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act, 1969) process, and the BLM published its final Environmental Impact Statement in July.
There aren’t any long-term studies on the impact of wind farms on sage grouse, but according to the EIS, the company is attempting to impact sage grouse as little as possible. It is not putting any of the turbines in core sage grouse habitat and has been monitoring sage grouse since 2010 with the goal of improving sage grouse habitat in the area.
Will Schultz, wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish, said there are also a lot of unknowns when it comes to the effect of wind farms on mule deer.
A study conducted by Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc. during the winters of 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 in the gas fields of the Pinedale Anticline Project area found that mule deer avoid gas well pads by at least three kilometers and stay away from vehicle traffic to and from the pads.
PCW plans to minimize wear and tear on county roads by constructing a rail spur to connect with the Union Pacific line along I-80 to bring materials and components for the wind farm in by rail and keep most road traffic associated with construction within the boundaries of the project itself.
Schultz said the deer may be able to adapt to the turbines, but will definitely experience stress with the added roads and traffic.
Though the impact to mule deer is as yet unknown, PCW is attempting to offset any potential negative effects.
“PCW has proposed,” Choquette wrote, “to place over 26,000 acres of private Overland Trail Ranch lands into a conservation easement, including lands east of the North Platte River and in the western Sierra Madre portion of the ranch.”
Miller said at the workshop the company was committed to beginning the conservation easement before commercial operations begin.
The County Planning Commission will hold a public meeting to review and consider PCW’s application for a conditional use permit on Sept. 17 and the Carbon County Commissioners will hold a public hearing to consider the permit on Oct. 2.
The company will apply for a permit from the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council in November and expects the council to make a decision in February 2013.
PCW is hosting meetings for the public in Rawlins, Sept. 18 at the Depot, and in Saratoga Sept. 19 at the PVCC. Both events are from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. and a barbeque dinner will be served from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
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BLM Wyoming cites PCW efforts in its BLM Fact Sheet about "ongoing collaborative sage-grouse conservation initiatives."
A video overview of PCW's wind power project is now online.
Members of the media with inquiries about the PCW wind energy project
, Director of Communications, 303.299.1395.
BLM Environmental Assessments
From 2013-2015, BLM prepared two separate site-specific Environmental Assessments, both tiered to the project-wide Environmental Impact Statement completed in 2012. Review our archives of the BLM’s public scoping documents: