The high winds that are part of life in southeast Wyoming make it a prime target for the development of systems to turn the gusts into a usable source of electricity.
To prepare for the expected influx of towers and turbines that may dot the landscape, Laramie County is creating rules to monitor the future installation, operation and potential abandonment of wind energy systems.
County officials say the proposed regulations are designed to ensure the orderly development of the systems. They also seek to protect public infrastructure and the quality of life for residents while encouraging the growth of this alternative energy source for personal and commercial uses.
“We do want to make sure they’re safe (wind energy systems), and we do want to make sure you don’t cause trouble for your neighbors. But that’s it,” county planning director Gary Kranse said.
The proposal sets limits on how close wind towers can be to houses, utility lines and public roads as well as other wind energy systems.
Also, power lines serving the systems would have to be buried, and advertising on the towers would be prohibited. Restrictions on the noise and light from the towers are also included.
Many ranchers and large landowners say the rules make sense. But they caution that the final form of the regulations should be considered carefully, particularly because of the potential revenue wind farms can bring.
Scott Zimmerman, a lobbyist and governmental affairs representative with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, said some public oversight of the systems is a good idea as the wind industry increases its presence here.
“It’s like any other industry that starts up,” said Zimmerman, a rancher who lives northwest of Pine Bluffs. “You need to have a level playing field to be protected if there is a development next to you or to be able to develop in a safe and sane manner.”
Mark Eisele co-operates the King Ranch along Happy Jack Road west of Cheyenne. He is a member of the Southeast Wyoming Wind Owners Association, an informal group of ranchers and landowners that he said presents a unified voice in talking with wind energy developers.
Eisele says the wind energy business will be vital to sustaining the ranching industry in the future. He said the income from the environmentally friendly energy source will help protect ranchers against the volatile cattle market and the rising costs of utilities and diesel fuel.
“We want to raise cattle and sheep, but we still want to pay the bills,” he said. “This gives us the opportunity to do that and to do something good for the country.”
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said some form of regulation is needed.
“I see some value in what the county is attempting to do to ensure some degree of accountability and development of wind energy, which it appears is going to be a big thing in southeast Wyoming,” he said.
The proposed rules are not set in stone. The county is accepting public comment on them through Jan. 25, and Kranse said changes will be made based on that feedback.
“Our goal is to have as much input from the citizens as possible,” he said. “We want to make sure these regulations are as good as possible for everybody.”
County commissioners will have the final say in approving the regulations.
While not in the current proposal, Kranse said existing wind systems will be grandfathered in and not subject to any new regulations. And they will not apply to windmills used to pump water.
County Commissioner Jeff Ketcham said the proposed regulations are modeled on those recently passed in Platte County.
He said he is primarily focused on the potential damage that the installation of a system can cause to roads and how to remove wind towers from a property if they become obsolete or are no longer a viable energy source.
The heavy equipment, including tractor trailers, needed to install a wind farm last year in Weld County, Colo., south of Pine Bluffs damaged public roads in Laramie County, Ketcham said.
The proposal would require the owners of wind towers to pay for any road damage associated with the system.
The proposal also requires every wind energy system to be permitted and its owners to pay an undetermined application fee.
Small systems with a capacity of less than 50 kilowatts would be approved by the county planning director. Systems larger than that would have to be approved by County Commission.
Kranse said the county is considering creating a third category for systems with a capacity of less than 10 kilowatts.
By Cary Snyder
5 January 2008
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