CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne City Council on Monday approved a lease agreement for the construction of a wind farm on 12,000 acres of the Belvoir Ranch six miles west of the city.
The lease agreement with Cheyenne Wind, LLC, will give the company five years to go through the necessary study and permitting processes before it begins construction, with an additional 30 years of actual operation.
Speaking on behalf of the company was CEO Bruce Morley, who anticipated spending about $4 million to secure the necessary permitting, with an aim of getting the $750 million, 150-turbine wind farm up and running by 2016.
According to the agreement, Morley has the option of renewing the planning portion of the lease for an additional five years after the original five are up, but will have to pay increasing amounts of money to the city, starting at $100,000 in year six, and increasing $50,000 each year to $300,000 in year 10. Morley’s company will also have to show that it has made substantial progress on its permitting, or the city will have the option of cancelling the lease.
Morley told council members that his first wind energy project in the state took nine years to fully develop before construction could begin, hence his desire to see an extension clause in the agreement to help cover his company in the event red tape slows the process down.
“The usual case is things go wrong, Murphy’s law, Congress may or may not act on certain things,” Morley said. “In order to commit $4 million for studies, we need a long enough period so that the lease doesn’t just terminate when we’re almost at the finish line.”
Several members of the public spoke with trepidation about the proposed wind farm, focusing primarily on the impact it might have on Cheyenne’s scenic views. One man, Ed Clark, argued that the city already has enough unflattering industrial architecture around, adding that that the promise of another 150 turbines on the horizon would only make it that much worse.
Another, Paul Edner , agreed, pointing out the Happy Jack Wind Farm visible just to the northwest of Cheyenne.
Morley agreed that, while the Belvoir turbines would be less prominent than those at Happy Jack, they would still be visible. He said that during the planning process, computer simulations would be done to generate an idea of just what the farm would look like from various vantage points in Cheyenne proper.
But Ward 3 councilman Jim Brown argued that beauty was in the eye of the beholder, and that what may be an eyesore to one person may not be to another. He added that he personally had no issue with the appearance of wind turbines, adding that it was a small price to pay in exchange for the $72 million worth of royalties expected to flow into the city’s offers over the wind farm’s total lifespan.
Ward 1 councilwoman Amber Ash had her own reservations about the agreement, namely that the city did not solicit proposals from any other companies to see if they could offer a better deal. Mayor Rick Kaysen acknowledged that this was an exclusive deal, but one that was allowable due to the fact that it involved a lease agreement, and not a more traditional building contract, thus allowing the council to vote on it independent of any competitive bidding process.
Ash countered, saying that she had received a letter from Duke Energy, the company responsible for the Happy Jack farm, expressing interest in the Belvoir Ranch, and asked what became of that discussion. Kaysen countered that, while he had also seen the letter, he and city attorney Dan White were comfortable with the progress they had already made with Morley, and saw no reason to disrupt it.
But Ash maintained her position that, by not soliciting additional offers from other companies, the council was not ensuring the taxpayers will get the best return on investment for the ranch land.
Ward 3 councilwoman Georgia Adams Broyles further questioned Morley on whether or not the Belvoir project would be dependent on a federal wind energy tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of this year unless Congress votes to renew it.
Morley said he believed the tax credit would likely be renewed sometime after the general election in November n something that has already occurred several times since the credit was first approved in 1992. Regardless, he said, renewable energy mandates in Colorado and California will likely keep the wind energy industry going, especially in Wyoming, given the state’s superior wind energy potential.
“Wyoming has the highest capacity for wind projects of any place in the United States,” Morley said. “The first project we build in Arlington has been the best producer in the country, and California is not going away; they still have a mandate to get 33 percent of their power from renewable energy by 2020.”
Morley also answered concerns that the wind farm could conflict with ongoing efforts to clean up contamination of the groundwater on a section of Belvoir Ranch that used to be home to a Cold War-era missile site. He noted that his company has been in regular communication with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers, and that the two projects are not expected to come into conflict with one another.
“Both sides have agreed one project does not interfere with the other,” Morley said. “If there is any interference, we can move the turbines away. We can avoid the groundwater remediation completely.”
The council ultimately voted 9-1 to approve the lease agreement, with Ash the sole opponent. After the meeting, Kaysen said the city will continually work with Morley to keep tabs on how the project develops over the next five years.