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Federal regulators deny move against Wyoming wind farm

Federal energy regulators on Friday tamped down another barrier raised by a group opposed to the development of a wind energy project proposed for south of Glenrock.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday denied a petition by the Northern Laramie Range Alliance that would have effectively killed a pair of adjacent wind farms on ridges in the Mormon Canyon area, proposed by Wasatch Wind of Park City, Utah.

The alliance is a group of area residents against what they call “industrialization” in the northern arc of the Laramie Range. They have fought the Wasatch Wind project

before county commissioners, a state industrial permit board and a state district judge, but so far have failed to stop the project.

In its petition to the regulatory commission, the alliance claimed Wasatch had improperly split its proposal into two smaller projects to take advantage of a federal law requiring that utilities must give priority to small energy projects when signing agreements to purchase power from producers, such as Wasatch Wind.

The company had talked up its proposal as a single project, with plans to connect to transmission lines at a single point, and got a single-project permit from both county and state officials, the alliance said.

The alliance claimed Wasatch gamed the system by dividing the project into two parts to push it to the head of the line of power sellers to Rocky Mountain Power, the utility in the area.

While the 100-megawatt, 62-turbine Wasatch Pioneer Park wind project wouldn’t qualify if considered a single project, the project consists of two different turbine clusters spaced at least a mile away – the distance required by the commission.

By forcing the utility to buy power produced from the wind energy project, Wasatch would zap Rocky Mountain Power customers with higher electricity rates, the alliance said.

Power utility Xcel Energy filed an opinion in the case, saying it didn’t have any interest in the matter. But the utility wanted the commission to be aware Xcel had seen similar, “not isolated” examples of a large project split into smaller parts to take advantage of federal rules.

On Thursday, the commission disagreed with the alliance’s claims, saying its one-mile rule applied in this situation. The commission said it wouldn’t examine whether Wasatch was indeed gaming the system.

“As with the positive decisions we’ve received for other NLRA challenges, we’re pleased but not surprised,” Wasatch Wind spokeswoman Michelle Stevens said. “The law governing our status with FERC is clear and we’ve followed the law. The claims by the NLRA that we are somehow gaming the system are false and now this is proven.”

On Monday, the group’s steering committee said it was disappointed by the commision’s decision.

“The alliance is considering the options open to it to appeal this decision on behalf of its members and other Rocky Mountain Power customers,” the Northern Laramie Range Alliance said in a media release.

On Friday, the alliance appealed lawsuits against county and state permits for the project to the Wyoming Supreme Court. A state district court judge in January affirmed both the state and county permits for the Wasatch project, which the company says it will begin construction on this spring.

The alliance also has appealed to a state court a Wyoming Public Service Commission decision that gave Wasatch more time – beyond the end of 2011 – to start delivering power from its project.