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Amid legal fight, Wyoming wind permit process gets nod  

Credit:  By JOAN BARRON Star-Tribune capital bureau | trib.com 26 July 2012 ~~

The new process for wind energy projects adopted by the Legislature more than two years ago worked out well during its first test, Converse County officials say.

Because Converse County has no zoning authority, the commissioners adopted the minimum standards spelled out in the 2010 law when they worked on Wasatch Wind’s Pioneer Park Wind Energy project south of Glenrock.

Although Converse County officials say the process worked well, they said an opposing organization, Northern Laramie Range Alliance, probably would not agree.

The NLRA’s lawsuit to block the project is pending before the Wyoming Supreme Court.

The association is appealing a state district court decision that upheld the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council’s approval of the project’s permit.

The $180 million project involves construction of two separate 31-turbine sites along Mormon Canyon Road south of Glenrock.

The five Converse County commissioners held four well-attended public hearings on the Wasatch project, said Mike Colling, Converse County Commission chairman.

“Some just don’t like wind turbines, some had cabins in the mountains and didn’t want to interrupt the viewshed. Some were for them,” Colling said of the public comments.

The commission vote in favor of the project, he said, came down to property rights and the authority of a property owner to develop the property as long it doesn’t present a hazard.

The project may have been more acceptable, he said, if the units were to be located north of the interstate away from the mountains, instead of being on the south side.

Commissioner Jim Willox said one benefit of the new standards was that they allowed the county to secure some road agreements sooner than the Industrial Siting Council process allowed.

“That’s where we can work with the applicants on our concerns about the roads and how to transport large pieces of equipment on the roads,” Willox said.

Although Converse County did not have as much flexibility as counties with zoning, the commissioners were able to make some minor changes in the state minimum standards, such as an increase in the “setbacks.”

A couple of counties that do have zoning regulations took a different approach and have more specifics for companies to address, he said.

The 2010 law includes specific distance requirements governing the proximity of the units to towns and roads.

“We didn’t make any wholesale changes,” Willox added. “It worked well for us. We thought it worked well.”

Wasatch officials declined to comment on the new process because the lawsuit over the project is pending before the Wyoming Supreme Court, spokesman Michelle Stevens said.

For the same reason, NLRA officials declined to comment on the procedure, said Kenneth Lay, a member of the alliance steering committee.

Willox, meanwhile, said that in the three previous wind power projects approved for Converse County, the commissioners dealt with the Industrial Siting Council alone.

It was different this time, he said, because the commissioners had an application pending as they were trying to adopt the state standards.

“We followed the law. We had hearings,” he said.

“I think we reached an amicable solution as far as the county infrastructure was concerned,” Willox added.

Converse County Clerk Lucile Taylor said she felt the company had to do a fair amount of jumping through hoops to comply with the new process and standards.

Wasatch officials, she said, were very cooperative with the county and agreed to some accommodations on the locations of the turbines.

“The county adopted what it needed to adopt,” Taylor said.

Colling noted the company has not yet even started building a road.

In April, Wasatch announced it was delaying half the project because the legal challenges of the landowners group, NRLA, forced the company to break a power purchase agreement with Rocky Mountain Power.

The second site and unit is unaffected, spokesman Stevens said earlier, because it is under a different power agreement that doesn’t require power generation to start until this December. By that time, Wasatch expects the legal appeals will be resolved.

The Northern Laramie Range Alliance, which represents 900 residents in the area, maintains the court appeals are not preventing Wasatch from moving ahead because the alliance has not asked the courts to stay construction pending their outcome.

The alliance lawsuit claims Wasatch has not met all the conditions the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council required in its July 2011 permit including that the company demonstrate the financial capacity to build operate, maintain and reclaim the proposed project.

In summary arguments filed with the supreme court, the NLRA claims that Wasatch relied on a third party to meet the financial capacity requirements which is not allowed by state law.

The council also was not presented with enough evidence to find that the project would not pose the threat of serious injury to the environment and social and economic conditions in the affected area, the alliance brief said.

A separate case on appeal with the supreme court challenges Converse County’s approval of the permit.

Source:  By JOAN BARRON Star-Tribune capital bureau | trib.com 26 July 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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