The monetary impact on Converse County of a proposed wind project in Glenrock may be realized as soon as construction starts through impact assistance payments from the state Department of Environmental Quality’s industrial siting division.
From that division, Tom Schroeder prepared the county commissioners Tuesday for what he said could be a “fast and furious” process as Rocky Mountain Power files its application for an industrial siting permit this fall. In conjunction with the permit, the state Industrial Siting Council will decide what sort of money it should approve for the county as impact assistance fees.
State permits are required for all projects with construction costs of $163 million or more. The council evaluates the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the construction work on communities before issuing construction permits. The assistance fees are intended to help communities address impacts.
Schroeder urged the county to start now discussing potential impacts with cities and towns which may fall within the project’s significant impact area, as defined by engineering studies by Rocky Mountain Power. While the 66 turbines capable of generating 99 megawatts of power are planned for the old Dave Johnston coal mine 12 miles north of Glenrock, the nearby town of Rolling Hills would likely be significantly affected and Douglas, about 20 miles from Glenrock, could also see some impacts, the commissioners said.
Natrona County and the cities of Evansville and Casper may also be impacted as Rocky Mountain proposes offloading materials in Casper and trucking them to the site. Also, a significant number of the 100 to 150 workers Rocky Mountain Power expects to use during construction could come from or stay in Casper.
At this point, the impact area is defined loosely as between Casper and Wheatland and between Douglas and Wright, Schroeder said. Because the project is located in Converse County, the commissioners here will have to take the lead.
“That’s going to be the big issue,” Commissioner Ed Werner said. “How do you split the pie, and where does that decision come from?”
Schroeder said the process works best when the county can serve as an umbrella for all municipalities affected by the project. If locals are unable to decide how to divvy up the fees, the state division steps in with its own formula. Any decision is subject to Industrial Siting Council approval, Schroeder pointed out.
“We will turn to you – it’s your jurisdiction – for leadership in this process,” Schroeder said.
But, because of the way the council formulates anticipated impacts, the process may prove unfair, Converse Area New Development Organization Director Joe Coyne said. Fees are calculated using a baseline on the past several years of county revenues and sales taxes. Counties receive assistance based on the rise in sales tax.
“We’ve seen double-digit growth for the past three years (in Converse County),” Coyne said of sales tax revenues. “It has peaked. It’s flat.”
Based on that baseline, impact fees could actually amount to nearly nothing, he said.
“That’s a real possibility here with this project,” Coyne told the commissioners.
Also of interest to the commissioners was a somewhat new process Rocky Mountain Power would be using to petition for its permit. Schroeder explained that in recent years, planners applied using a “Section 107” process that was relaxed, somewhat informal and allowed for open discussion among interested parties. Now, however, Rocky Mountain Power will be following a “Section 109” process that is much more formal but does allow counties more time to assess their potential impacts.
Also under the Section 109 protocol, any local government wishing to be considered a party during testimony must notify Schroeder early. He said the division would hold at least one public meeting before the formal hearings in order to solicit public comments on the permit and impact fees.
Werner voiced concern that federal tax exemptions on parts of renewable energy projects would dramatically reduce the sales tax revenues the county realizes during Rocky Mountain’s project.
Rocky Mountain Power expects to begin construction in spring 2008 once permits are in place, and to complete work by October 2008, according to spokesperson Jeff Hymas. Along with the 66 General Electric wind turbines, the project would include towers, foundations, roads, cables and communications equipment. The wind project would probably employ about 10 full-time operators once construction is complete.
By RENA DELBRIDGE
8 August 2007
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