With a vote of 3-0, the Carbon County Commission granted a conditional use permit to the Power Company of Wyoming for the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind farm project.
During the public hearing Tuesday, representatives from the power company presented details about the project to the commissioners, and afterward residents peppered them with comments and questions.
“This is an intrusion into the open space remaining in Carbon County,” said Scott Kerbs, a board member of the Saratoga Encampment Rawlins Conservation District who appeared at the hearing as a private citizen.
The wind farm will overtake space formerly used for recreation and tourism, and the tourism in Carbon County will drop, Kerbs said.
Others spoke in favor of the project.
“I think projects like this will help not only my small business but all small businesses,” said Mike Houck, of Rawlins Rentals. “And that will last beyond the construction period with new families coming to town.”
He pointed out that the wind farm would turn the strong winds in the area from a detriment to an asset.
“Instead of cursing the wind, you’ll be smiling for extra dollars coming to town,” Houck said.
The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind farm project would erect about 1,000 wind turbines across 229,076 acres of public and private land in two sites south of Rawlins. The project is expected to generate a total of 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of renewable power. Pending state approval, current construction is planned to begin in 2013.
Though the estimate has always been 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of power, Garry Miller, vice president of Land and Environment, told board members the newer turbine models generated closer to 3mw, meaning power generated by the wind farm would be closer to 3,000 megawatts.
A megawatt is one million watts.
Three different tax revenue streams would benefit Carbon County financially, said Roxane Perruso, vice president and general counsel for the Power Company of Wyoming.
The county is projected to receive $233 million to $350 million from property taxes over 20 years; $123 million from sales and use taxes during the construction period; and $89 million from electricity generation tax, which is $1 per megawatt hour, over 20 years.
During the first two years of construction, 300 to 400 jobs would be added to the county, and during the next three years, 1,000 to 1,200 jobs would be added, Perruso said. Once construction is complete, at least 114 long-term maintenance and operations jobs would be added.
The company is seeking to hire “as many local workers for those positions as possible,” Perruso said.
About the possible harm to the wildlife in the wind farm site, Richard Rakness, of Medicine Bow, said the deer, antelope, cows and sage grouse never seemed upset by the wind turbines in Medicine Bow. In fact, they liked the shade.
“(The wind turbines) didn’t bother any animal of any kind that we could see,” Rakness said.
Next, the power company will need a permit from the state’s Industrial Siting Council, which reviews the socio-economic and environmental impacts of industrial facilities before issuing a permit for construction.
The company will also need to submit specific plans to the Bureau of Land Management, which owns 50 percent of the land that will be used for the wind farm.
“The (Industrial Siting Council) is the next step in the process, but it’s not the end of the process,” Perruso said.
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