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Company expands wind farm proposal to 237 turbines

Discussions are underway to increase the size of a controversial wind farm project proposed near Pilot Butte, according to John Barton, a planner in the Sweetwater County Planning and Zoning department.

Barton said recent discussions were geared toward increasing the size of the project by approximately 200 wind generators. However, no official application has been submitted to the planning department.

The original permit issued to Tasco Engineering and Teton Power LLC allowed for a project that would consist of 37 wind generators. The project cost was estimated to be $100 million.

Barton said one of the main factors driving the conversation is the increased demand for renewable sources of energy, along with the change in the economy and improvements in power transmission.

Additionally, Barton said tax benefits for corporations investing in wind energy are set to expire in 2010.

The proposed wind farm was also a major topic discussed by the Sweetwater County Commissioners Tuesday morning. During a presentation from the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council, Tom Schroeder, program principal for the ISC, said the White Mountain wind farm was one of the projects the council expected to see a permit application from.

Schroeder said the wind farm would be built in phases and said a wind farm the size of the proposed project would be 12,000-15,000 acres.

The project was originally permitted to be built on land owned by the Rock Springs Grazing Association. However, with the proposed 200 additional wind generators, land owned by the Bureau of Land Management will also need to be utilized.

According to Schroeder, if the project sees fruition, it would be the first wind farm in Wyoming to be built on public land.

Commissioner Wally Johnson said the initial permit was for 37 wind turbines, then said he didn’t agree with the projected full buildout of the wind farm.

Schroeder said the project was estimated to cost approximately $600 million but said wind farms have been shown to be a financial loss for some local governments.

“It’s a financial hurt,” Schroeder said.

He said the only tax paid on most wind farms is property tax, because the power generated by the farm is sent and sold to other states.

Commissioner Debby Boese said the presentation made by Gary Tassainer, president of Tasco Engineering, suggested that farm would be a benefit for the county because it would generate tax revenue.

Boese said she also remembered that Tasco Engineering wanted to use three different companies to build the wind farm, because only projects totaling more than $180 million dollars are required to get a permit from the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council. She wondered if Tasco Engineering could avoid regulation from the council if they used three separate companies to build the wind farm.

Schroeder said the “corporate veil” created by such a move would be exposed because the three companies would be working under the main corporation building the wind farm. Schroeder said such a move would make it evident that “they are avoiding a certain type of regulation.”

County Planner Mark Kot said he county planning and zoning department would also look for such a development, saying the department would scrutinize the action.

“We have been very clear with all applicants that we are considering the project in its entirety,” Kot said.

However, Tasco Engineering and Teton Power LLC aren’t the only ones interested in Sweetwater County’s potential for wind power. Barton said there were a handful of companies scouting areas within the county for possible wind farms.

The planning and zoning department is accepting comments about a proposed anemometer, a 200-foot structure designed to measure wind speed, to be located 17 miles south of Rock Springs. Another proposed site would place an anemometer near 14-Mile Hill north of Rock Springs.

The permit process for the wind farm originally proposed by Tasco Engineering was a somewhat controversial topic for residents. The proposal passed the planning and zoning board in a 3-1 vote, although a number of residents spoke against the project, citing concerns about the wind generators placement near Pilot Butte and local herds wild horses.

The closest generators would be located approximately one mile from Pilot Butte.

The Green River Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Sweetwater County Travel and Tourism Board were not opposed to the project although the wind farm would be located near a portion the Wild Horse Loop Tour.

By David Martin
Staff Writer

Green River Star

4 June 2008