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BLM fast-tracks three Wyoming wind energy projects

CASPER, Wyo. – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it will fast-track three Wyoming wind energy projects in 2012, although representatives from the BLM’s state office say the projects were already considered priorities.

The BLM named the Sand Hills Ranch, Chokecherry/Sierra Madre and White Mountain projects among 17 renewable-energy priority projects in four states due to receive increased focus next year.

The BLM’s 2012 priority list also includes solar, wind and hydropower projects in Arizona, Nevada and California.

Largest on the list

The 1,000-turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project is proposed by Denver-based Anschutz Corp. subsidiary Power Co. of Wyoming for south of Rawlins. It is the largest wind farm on the BLM’s list.

The agency expects to issue a final environmental impact statement next year for the 2,000- to 3,000-megawatt project, which the BLM says will be the largest of its kind in North America.

“The BLM priority status should move PCW another step closer to beginning construction and generating the cost-effective renewable energy supplies that California and other states need,” said Bill Miller, president and chief executive of Power Co. of Wyoming, in a media release.

The Chokecherry/Sierra Madre project is “a flagship project for Wyoming and the BLM in general,” said Mike Valle, head of the BLM-Wyoming renewable energy coordination office.

The BLM has determined that Lehi, Utah-based Teton Wind LLC’s White Mountain project, which will be home to up to 240 wind turbines just northwest of Rock Springs, will have no significant environmental impact. That decision means the project could soon be under construction.

Breaking ground in 2013

A final environmental assessment is pending for Houston-based Shell Wind Energy’s 25-turbine Sand Hills Farm project northwest of Laramie, with construction expected to begin in 2013.

The priority designation means the BLM in Wyoming consults earlier with other federal agencies on the projects and works closely with field specialists to report back to Washington, D.C., Valle said.

“There’s a lot of scrutiny and sensitivity to these projects,” he said.

In a preamble to the project list, the BLM said the projects totaled 7,000 megawatts of renewable energy.

“BLM developed this priority list in collaboration with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, with an emphasis on early consultation,” the release said.

None of the Wyoming projects appeared on BLM priority project lists for 2010 or 2011, although that designation did appear in project lists released by the BLM state office this year.

“This project is categorized as a priority project, meaning it is part of the administration’s efforts to diversify the nation’s energy portfolio in an environmentally responsible manner, in addition to being sited in an area that minimizes impacts to the environment,” each projects’ listing said.

Beverly Gorny, a spokeswoman for the BLM Wyoming office, referred questions about the renewable energy projects list to BLM headquarters in Washington, D.C.

A Star-Tribune call on Tuesday to the agency headquarters’ public affairs office wasn’t returned.