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Project progress, impacts discussed at energy meeting

The progress of two projects and their impacts to Platte County were the focus of a recent Platte County Economic Development energy committee meeting.

The Jan. 26 meeting had representation from Pathfinder Wind and American Renewable Energy Associates (AREA).

Mark Doelger, representing Pathfinder Wind, said their projects – which are all in Wyoming – are limited to wind.

“So we live or die on what gets done here – in the Wheatland, Chugwater area specifically,” he said.

Doelger described their 3,000 megawatt wind project as “very finite,” saying it would use 1,200 turbines.

Transmission for this project will cost $3 billion and building the wind farms will cost $7 billion.

“So in total it’s a $10 billion project,” he said.

The market for the power is in California and the desert southwest (Las Vegas primarily).

Doelger said the capacity factor on the wind is about 40 percent in this area, which means they need to supplement the wind with another source of power generation. They intend to do that with natural gas.

“By doing so, we’ll get to a reliability of about 97 percent from this area with wind combined with natural gas,” he said.

Doelger said there are a couple of big issues currently. One of the issues are the transmission lines in California. With the new administration in California, there is a lot of uncertainty with the market, he said. Doelger said Pathfinder is dedicating a lot of resources to California to sell their product there.

The other issue is taxes in Wyoming. At this time the legislature is considering a bill that would change the way wind is taxed.

It will be about three years before Pathfinder begins construction of this project. The construction phase will take two years before the wind farm goes into service.

“2016 is when things will be happening,” Doelger said.

Vic Garber, representing Pathfinder Wind and Bill Barrett Oil, said it’s important to be ahead of the curve on the impact from all of this development. Planning and zoning is especially crucial.

“Know where you want your growth to go,” he said. “You’ve got to take care of the temporary types of impact when all this activity first comes into play.”

RV parks, trailer parks, motels and affordable housing are critical, he said.

Garber also discussed water issues, saying the impact could test a town’s abilities.

Impact will also come from AREA, the waste-to-energy plant that will be constructed west of Guernsey.

According to their website, www.area4energy.com, AREA “is in the business of converting municipal solid waste (MSW) to electrical power and reducing the need for Landfills.”

David Askins, AREA president, and Stuart Powell, AREA operations manager, gave an update on the plant’s progress.

Because there is a shortage of available housing in the area, construction of housing for pant employees is in the works. Construction of the first group of houses is expected to begin at the end of April or May. The plan is to build 30 houses in the first year.

There will be an estimated 170 workers during the peak construction period. Once the plant is complete, the full time staffing will require around 70 employees.

AREA is expected to be in operation in the fourth quarter in 2012.