March 20, 2013

1,000-turbine Wyoming wind farm delayed a year

By ADAM VOGE Star-Tribune energy reporter |

RAWLINS – The company behind what would be the country’s largest wind energy project will wait until next spring to seek key state permits, likely pushing project construction back until fall 2014.

Power Company of Wyoming, a subsidiary of Denver-based Anschutz Corp., plans to file for state Industrial Siting permits next March, using the interim to conduct a series of analyses on the site near Rawlins that will eventually be home to the 1,000-turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind project.

Company representatives presented the updated timeline to the Carbon County Commissioners at a Tuesday meeting in Rawlins, about two months after the original planned application date.

The company was set to file the permit application this January, but held back because of concerns regarding state legislation that would have required companies to spend a certain amount of a project’s cost in the first two years of the project.

Company vice president Roxane Perruso told commissioners Tuesday that the company – which had previously identified 2013 as a build year for the project – still feels optimistic, and that the timeline laid out would still meet the project’s permitting commitments to the state and county.

“It’s been a long road, as you can see,” she said. “We have made substantial progress, and we thank you for being with us all that time.”

Once completed, Chokecherry and Sierra Madre would become the backbone of an up-and-coming but sputtering Wyoming wind industry.

Wind producers have struggled to find transmission that could eventually transport their product to the renewable energy-hungry customers outside the Cowboy State.

Yet three power line projects – including another Anschutz property, TransWest Express – could eventually transfer nearly 10,000 megawatts of power across state lines. TransWest is still under federal study, but an environmental impact statement is expected this spring.

The 1,000 turbines and 2,000-3,000 megawatts of power the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre facility could generate would dwarf other Wyoming wind projects.

For example, about 10 projects in Wyoming generated enough power in 2012 to raise about $2.5 million in state production taxes. Power Company of Wyoming expects their project to owe $8 million in production taxes per year at full capacity.

The company first proposed the project in 2006 and has since worked to clear a series of regulatory and permitting hurdles. The project has acquired a series of permits, including a county-issued conditional-use permit approved in early October and a federal Bureau of Land Management approval signed at a Cheyenne ceremony about a week later.

But for the $5 billion project to begin construction, several other milestones need to be cleared. Among others, the company needs to obtain permission from the state’s Industrial Siting Council, an appointed group that must approve of industrial projects costing more than about $190 million. The company would also be required to apply for county building permits.

Although the major permissions won’t be applied for in the next 12 months, that doesn’t mean there won’t be action at the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre site.

Perruso told commissioners that in early April, PCW will send a team of about 30 engineers, archaeologists and biologists to begin siting turbines. The engineers will work with the other scientists to identify the most acceptable sites for each windmill, and analyses will eventually be sent along to the BLM. The crews will work until about October and will stay in either hotels or company-leased houses.

Commissioners expressed gratitude to the company Tuesday.

“It’s exciting,” Commissioner Leo Chapman told the company. “I want to express my gratitude with the way you’ve kept us informed.”

Perruso said the analysis will help the company address the agency’s various planning questions and concerns about the project, making the permitting process flow smoothly.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” she said. “Now we’re hoping to bring it home.”

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