Despite losing every legal challenge to Wasatch Wind’s plans to build a 100-megawatt wind farm south of Glenrock, the Northern Laramie Range Alliance said it will continue to fight to stop the project.
The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled late last week that the Converse County Board of Commissioners and the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council properly granted permits for Wasatch Wind’s proposed Pioneer Wind Park I and Pioneer Wind Park II facilities. The ruling Dec. 14 upheld the Eight Judicial District Court ruling issued in January, which was appealed to the state Supreme Court in March.
Pioneer I and Pioneer II, each containing 31 wind turbines, are planned for land in the Boxelder/Mormon Canyon area of the Laramie Range about 10 miles south of Glenrock.
The company received the approval for its county wind permit in May 2011, and, the following month, the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council (ISC) voted 4-3 to approve a conditional permit for the project. The ISC gave its final approval for construction on July 21, 2011, with numerous conditions attached.
The Northern Laramie Range Alliance (NLRA) and Northern Laramie Range Foundation (NLRF) had argued that the company was wrongly granted permits to proceed with its projects. White Creek Ranch also was a party to the lawsuit.
The NLRA describes itself as a citizen organization dedicated to protecting the mountain areas of Albany, Converse and Natrona counties from large-scale industrial development. Founded early in 2009, the NLRA claims more than 900 members. The group has fought Wasatch Wind since the project’s inception.
In two separate civil suits, the NLRA and NLRF challenged the issuance of those permits on several grounds. They argued that the ISC’s decision “was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, unsupported by substantial evidence, and not in accordance with the law.”
The groups made similar claims in the case against the county permit, in addition to claiming that commissioners failed to follow their own procedural rules and regulations when they allowed the public additional time to submit written comments.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said the county properly granted Wasatch’s permit and concluded that the ISC “acted within its authority, and there is sufficient evidence to justify its decision.”
The NLRA also appealed the Wyoming Public Service Commission’s ruling allowing the company to extend one of its power purchase agreements (PPA) with Rocky Mountain Power. The Public Service Commission ruling became moot when Wasatch could not meet the terms of the extended PPA for when power would begin to be delivered. Last spring, Wasatch announced that one of its two 50-megawatt PPAs with Rocky Mountain Power had been terminated because the company determined that it could not fulfill the contractual terms of the agreement to begin delivering power by October 2011.
Wasatch said at that time that it would delay construction of Pioneer I until 2013, but the company said it still planned to begin building Pioneer II in 2012. Wasatch later put a hold on all construction plans until the Supreme Court ruling was made.
The second PPA calls for power delivery by the end of this month, with the possibility of an extension being granted, which could push the deadline into next spring. It is unlikely that the company would be able to meet the terms of the second PPA even with an extension.
The NLRA also filed a challenge to the company’s plans with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on the basis of those PPAs, claiming that those agreements should be ruled invalid because the two wind parks actually were one large non-qualifying facility. Last summer, FERC ruled in favor of Wasatch and the NLRA appealed that ruling. The appeal currently is pending in the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
After the Wyoming Supreme Court issued its ruling Dec. 14, the NLRA issued this statement: “While disappointed with the court’s ruling, the Northern Laramie Range Alliance believes the outcome is not surprising: As far as we have been able to determine, the ISC has never declined to issue an industrial siting permit in its 40 years of existence.With regard to the ISC permit, the court’s decision appears contrary to the clear intent of the legislature in passing an amendment to the Industrial Siting Act requiring that industrial-scale wind promoters demonstrate the financial capacity to build, operate and maintain these huge facilities. In this connection, NLRA notes that the company that Wasatch Wind put forward to the ISC as the source of financing for its project – Edison Mission Energy – now is in default on its debt and facing bankruptcy, as evidence at the ISC hearing strongly suggested was likely to occur. Further, to date, Wasatch has not met the financial capacity or most of the other permit conditions.
“With the deeply held belief that large-scale industrial facilities such as the Wasatch Wind project have no place in the Northern Laramie Range, the alliance will continue its efforts to prevent the construction of this project and other large-scale industrial development that threatens the range,” the statement concluded.
Officials with NLRA declined further comment.
A Wasatch Wind official said the company is currently working to develop an updated construction schedule for its wind farm projects and will provide more information as it becomes available.
“We are very pleased with the decision and appreciate the continued support we’ve received throughout this lengthy process from the projects’ landowners and many other community residents,” Wasatch Wind President Christine Mikell said in a release.
Company spokesman Michelle Stevens declined further comment.