No decision, at least not yet.
That was the Converse County commissioners’ ruling following Monday’s hearing on the highly controversial, proposed Pioneer Wind Parks I and II. Citing an overwhelming response to Wasatch Wind’s application for a county permit and the need to absorb all the information, the commissioners tabled any decision pending answers to the myriad questions and protests filed by opponents.
As for a timeline, the closest County Commission Chairman Mike Colling would come was to say the decision would be made during a regular commission meeting well before the Industrial Siting Council hearing, which has been pushed back from April 21 by about 45 days. No new date for the state ISC hearing has been set, but the ISC said a need for three days of hearings, rather than two, forced the delay.
Monday’s crowd consisted of Glenrock and Douglas residents, as well as others from rural Converse and Natrona counties. An array of Wasatch advisors were on hand and included Wasatch attorney John Masterson, Pioneer Project Development Director Christine Mikell and Director of Marketing and Communications for Wasatch, Michelle Stevens. They collectively reiterated the company’s stance that the application is complete and there have been no changes to the “scope or region” the permit encompasses, but did confirm that some changes within the boundaries of the original region had been made.
“Projects evolve,” Stevens said. “Some turbines have been moved nearly two-and-a-half miles to mitigate impeded views from residents, the (town) of Glenrock and from the interstate, but no changes to the original boundaries set out by our application have been made.”
The “completeness” status of the application was contested by Jennifer Hornung, a Glenrock school teacher and local landowner who claimed Wasatch failed to alert her of the projects.
“No effort was made by Wasatch to contact us,” Horning said. “We are less than a mile from the site, and we are the number-one property owner to be impacted by the project.”
Stevens quickly countered, “An associate of Wasatch Wind contacted the Hornungs, in person, last November. Federal regulations (also) state that no unaffiliated home owner can be within one mile of project. (The Hornung’s property) is not within one mile of the infrastructure or turbine boundary.”
Hornung was not allowed to publicly rebut these comments, but was instead directed to submit a written rebuttal to the commission.
Peter Nicolaysen, project-affected area homeowner and attorney for the Northern Laramie Range Alliance (NLRA), expressed concern over traffic on area roads, stating the “vague, ‘special circumstances’ verbage used in Wasatch’s Mormon Canyon road use permit application may be used to force the commission into another road use contract in the future.” He argued the wording implies Wasatch may use other roads in the area to access their project.
A particular concern was the safety of nearby Boxelder Road, which is already notoriously treacherous with its narrow, winding passages and steep drops, he said. Other residents said they fear the addition of sluggish, turbine-carrying-big-rigs may equal a lethal combination.
Stevens maintained the permit is specifically for Mormon Canyon Road. “We are not going to be using Boxelder Road at all.”
Several pro-wind backers – including Hershel Wickett of Glenrock and members of the Grant family (who own the land where the wind farms are to be located) – demonstrated support by asking those who want the project to stand. Approximately half of the total audience stood up.
Special attention was brought to the possibility that the wind park may be sold after construction, which Wastach confirmed may be a possibility but refrained from commenting further, citing potential open negotiations.
They did, however, introduce spokesman Sanjay Bhasin of Edison Mission Energy, who announced that Edison will be in charge of the construction and management of the Pioneer Wind Parks and “will operate the wind park before the project begins construction.”
Edison International, Edison Mission Energy’s parent company, is an energy giant and according to last year’s annual report, had more than $45.5 billion in assets by Dec. 31 and delivered more than 44 billion kilowatt-hours of power to consumers.
Currently, Irvine, Calif.,-based Edison Misson Energy operates 29 separate wind-energy projects in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
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