CASPER, Wyo. – Ask Sweetwater County Commissioner Reid West about the new wind farm south of Rock Springs, and he’ll have to ask you a question in return.
The lengthy federal review process is just starting for the wind farm proposed for the south side of Aspen Mountain. But it’s joining a host of proposed wind farm and transmission lines in the county. And discussion about the Aspen Mountain project mirrors a larger discussion about renewable energy development there.
The project, which could host up to 100 wind turbines, is the smallest of three wind farms proposed for the county. Sweetwater County is also the future home to three proposed major transmission lines and a number of significant oil and gas projects. But that doesn’t mean the small size of the project eludes public scrutiny.
The three wind farm projects are an issue that divide the county’s residents and the commissioners who represent them, West said. Some people like the projects, some don’t.
“I think it’s fair to say our commission is torn about the wind projects in our county,” he said. “It’s hard to argue against green energy, but quite honestly, is it any more economical than other forms of energy, if the tax incentives weren’t in place?”
Reid’s concerns about the value of wind energy match those in the larger national debate about renewable, or “green,” energy.
But many Sweetwater landowners believe the proposed wind farm – known as the Quaking Aspen Wind Energy Project – and other development provide economic boosts.
Project one of several
The Quaking Aspen project – proposed by enXo Services Corp. under the name of a subsidiary, Evergreen Wind Power Partners – is planned for a site about 11 miles southeast of Rock Springs and 13 miles south of Interstate 80.
The Quaking Aspen project was the second proposed enXco project in the county. But the company withdrew its federal application for its Miller Mountain project, according to Shelley Gregory, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming. As proposed, the project would have hosted 200 turbines and produced up to 300 megawatts.
Still, Sweetwater County and its neighboring counties are no strangers to energy development.
“The whole southern part of Wyoming is a busy energy corridor,” Gregory said.
For example, the federal permitting process has been completed on Teton Wind’s 240-turbine, 360-megawatt project, which is ready to go.
Meanwhile, three transmission lines crucial to future wind farms in the state and to clearing power grid congestion in the West are planned to cut through the county. PacifiCorp’s Gateway West line will head toward Idaho, the company’s Gateway South line will descend into Utah and Anschutz Corp.’s TransWest Express line will go south into Colorado before turning west into Utah.
Wasatch Wind Development’s 150-turbine, 270-megawatt Sweeny Ranch project is on hold awaiting a purchase agreement for power produced by the wind turbines and a deal to connect the project to the grid, according to the BLM.
Quaking Aspen project officials are just beginning the federal permit process. The project would be permitted for 100 turbines with a total production capacity of 250 megawatts, according to the BLM in its announcement of the start of the federal review process, which enXco expects to finish in 2015.
The project will start with 72 turbines, producing 150 megawatts for Rocky Mountain Power through a purchase agreement, a representative of enXco told commissioners in a presentation Oct. 18.
All about the land
The Quaking Aspen turbines would sit on a site that would stretch across about 12 square miles, half federal and and half private, with an additional square mile of state land, according to the BLM.
The private land on which the project sits is owned by “a couple of private landowners including the Rock Springs Grazing Association,” enXco site developer Nate Sandvig said in an email to the Star-Tribune.
John Hay, president of the Rock Springs Grazing Association, told the Star-Tribune that the association’s membership is a supporter of allowing landowners to do what they want with their land.
“As a grazing association and landowners, we’re firm believers in multiple use, we’re firm believers in property rights,” he said. “We think we should be able to put our property to use just like anybody would want to.”
The United States needs to become energy independent, Hay said, and all sorts of projects – including wind farms and transmission lines – will be needed to achieve that freedom.
“It’s going to take many sorts of these projects to get there,” he said.
West, the Sweetwater County commissioner, said he has a hard time faulting the landowners for their decision.
“Who can blame them for wanting to use their land to economically benefit them?” He said.
At the Oct. 18 commission hearing about the Quaking Aspen wind farm, commissioners applauded enXco, the wind farm’s developer, for the location it chose for the project south of Rock Springs.
But commissioners said they were concerned about how the wind energy development could affect hunting and other outdoor recreation.
“Where they’re proposing to put them is probably the best place they could,” West said. “But a lot of people use that mountain for hunting and recreation, and we’re just concerned about how this is going to change the landscape of our county.”
Sandvig, the enXco site developer, said the company chose the Aspen Mountain site because it was outside sage grouse core areas and because the project wouldn’t be visible from Rock Springs or White Mountain.
“After evaluating over 50,000 acres throughout Sweetwater County, the Quaking Aspen site was clearly the most preferred site for wind development,” he wrote in an email.
The discussion will continue at a Dec. 12 BLM public meeting in Rock Springs, where the topic will be the scope of the agency’s federal review.
Sandvig encouraged the public to come and discuss the project.
“EnXco approaches the community as our long-term partner,” he said. “Local support is absolutely critical and we take seriously the communities’ input regarding the development.”
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