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City could get millions for wind farm lease at Belvoir

CHEYENNE – The city of Cheyenne stands to make millions of dollars by leasing pastureland at the Belvoir Ranch to a wind energy company.

The Morley Companies of Jackson Hole wants to build a $750 million wind farm at the city-owned Belvoir Ranch, which is six miles west of town.

The company plans to lease 12,000 acres at the Belvoir Ranch and construct 150 wind towers. The project also could be the first wind/natural gas combination facility in the country.

Over the 35-year lease period, which was discussed Tuesday during a Cheyenne City Council work session, the city could get $72 million in royalties if the power was sold to Colorado.

That would come to about a $2 million a year at the full build-out of the 300 megawatt wind farm.

That amount could double if the power was sold to California, said Bruce Morley, CEO of Morley Companies.

California is under a mandate to have one third of its energy come from renewable sources by 2020, Morley added.

“That’s a lot of electricity,” Morley said.

Colorado has a similar mandate to have 30 percent renewable energy by 2020, he said.

The lease will go to the City Council on Aug. 13 and then be sent to the Finance Committee. It would go back to the City Council for final approval Aug. 27.

Morley said he hopes construction can begin in 2016.

The city would not have to put any money into the project or do any work, Morley said, adding, “We’re taking all of the upfront risks.”

Leading up to construction, there must be wildlife studies and data collection on wind, he said.

The Belvoir Ranch is currently used for grazing, and the wind farm project would only take about 1 percent of that grazing land away.

The lease would be for the western end of the property.

Morley said the wind energy industry in the United States is in a lull right now since the federal tax credit for the industry is set to expire by the end of the year.

But he said there appears to be bipartisan support to renew it after the presidential election.

“Now’s the time to get started and take some risks,” Morley said.

A special aspect to the proposed facility is that it would also be a natural gas generating facility, Morley said.

It would be the first wind/natural gas combined plant in the country, he added.

The hybrid energy form “will be a real game changer in the energy industry in the United States,” he said. “Cheyenne will be the place where it’s first demonstrated.”

A hybrid form of energy that combines natural gas and wind energy is accepted in the California mandate, he added.

Using natural gas in the plant will also help the state’s economy, he said.

“Wyoming’s biggest problem now is low natural gas prices and low demand for natural gas,” Morley said. “We’ll be able to get off of imported oil completely.”

City Council President Patrick Collins questioned how the energy would be shipped to market.

Morley said existing transmission lines could be used, and six new lines are being planned for Wyoming.

The city will also get the increased property tax base from the project, Morley said. Once it was built, it would employ about 15 people, he said.

“It’s not a big job creator, but it’s a big capital investment that helps the county and city tax base,” he said.