Wyoming didn’t add any new wind energy projects in 2012, and it would be a stretch to expect many to spring up in 2013.
The state of the Wyoming wind power industry, at least this spring, is not optimal.
Companies with projects and interest in Wyoming are slowly developing their projects, eyes on the day when they’ll be able to transmit their product to customers in other states.
But those projects, for the most part, are years from completion. Some may be a decade away from full service.
That means little large-scale development in Wyoming at present, and lots of waiting. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t proposed projects moving forward.
Wyoming’s still got a lot of wind, and some producers are still taking notice.
Chokecherry and Sierra Madre
It’s impossible to discuss future Wyoming wind projects without mentioning Chokecherry and Sierra Madre, Power Company of Wyoming’s monster $5 billion development planned for ranch land south of Rawlins.
The company hopes to eventually site and construct as many as 1,000 turbines on the site, roughly matching the number of turbines harvesting Wyoming wind in 2012. The project could eventually generate about 2,500 megawatts of power.
Chokecherry and Sierra Madre was identified by the Obama administration as a priority renewable energy project. The project was fast-tracked for approval, with a final Bureau of Land Management decision signed at a Cheyenne ceremony in October.
But the fast track treatment hasn’t meant immediate results on the ranch near Rawlins.
PCW, a subsidiary of Denver-based Anschutz Corp., told the Carbon County Board of Commissioners in March that it plans to apply for state industrial siting permits next spring, with construction expected to follow in the fall.
The company had planned to file the application – a requirement for projects costing more than $190 million – this spring. But a Wyoming state bill that would have governed when project funding must be spent put the brakes on the company’s plans, pushing the application back by a year.
The bill eventually failed.
If and when the project is built, it will become the largest in the country, and likely the world. And it will have a big impact on Wyoming.
Company officials estimate the project will generate 8.76 million megawatt hours of electricity every year. The state charges producers $1 per megawatt hour produced.
The project, then, will contribute $8.76 million every year to the state’s wind production tax, which last year brought in $2.6 million for Wyoming tax districts.
Numerous other projects around Wyoming – most on a significantly-smaller scale – also continue to progress around the state.
Pathfinder plans multiple projects
The other developer with the most interest tied in planned projects is likely Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy, a company pursuing at least two Wyoming developments.
Chief among the company’s plans is the Pathfinder-Zephyr project.
Holly Wold, a spokeswoman for the company, said Pathfinder has secured about 2,100 megawatts of capacity on the Zephyr transmission line for the project, planned between Chugwater and Wheatland.
The project is sited on private land, avoiding a sluggish federal permitting process. But that doesn’t mean the project isn’t affected by federal law.
Wold said the wind farm’s status is “variable” as it awaits on permitting and completion of the Zephyr transmission line, which is likely to undergo the full federal review. That means Pathfinder may not be ready to operate for years.
“We’re not sure of a target start date,” she said. “It just depends on how all the permitting goes.”
The company is also eyeing a property near Rawlins for its Whirlwind I project, expected to have a capacity between 250 and 500 megawatts.
Wold said few facts are available about Whirlwind I, which is making its way through preliminary study.
“We’ve just been gathering data,” she said. “We’re doing biological studies, and a lot of work with the BLM on our application. It’s just a matter of moving forward.”
Wold said Pathfinder plans to produce power at the site sometime between 2017 and 2021.
Belvoir Ranch moves forward near Cheyenne
A few other developers also continue forward with large-scale projects.
Morley Co., a Jackson-based developer, expects to start producing wind power from its development near Cheyenne by 2016.
Located on the Belvoir Ranch facility, Morley’s development could produce about 300 megawatts of power from about 130 turbines. The company also plans to run private natural gas generators to back up the wind production, although the company hasn’t yet determined how much gas generation capacity is needed.
Bruce Morley, chief executive of the company, said in April that his company expected to submit a state industrial siting project permit request that month. The project is expected to cost $600 million.
The Belvoir Ranch project won’t be subject to a federal review – it’s on city land – but Morley said his company will undertake an environmental study equal to what the federal government would do.
“The level of environmental conscientiousness will be the same, but we can avoid an enormous amount of red tape,” he said.
The project will also be unique in its use of backup natural gas generators. The fuel is commonly used to make up for peaks and valleys in wind energy production, but rarely on the same site as the turbines.
Morley said his approach could help generate more money for Wyoming.
“We have incredible amounts of gas being stored now,” he said. “This seems like a way for us to not just ship out natural gas but use it in Wyoming.”
The project will create about 300 construction jobs and 30 permanent jobs.
Some developers show progess, others cut projects
At least one wind developer who once had multiple Wyoming projects has cut down its plans.
EDF Renewable Energy, based in San Diego, is now only chasing one property in the state.
Company project developer Alan Cowan said in April that the company has terminated plans for the Miller Mountain and White Mountain projects, each located near Rock Springs.
“It’s my impression that we have relinquished the land on those back to the BLM,” Cowan said. The projects faced multiple obstacles, including the state’s sage grouse core area policy, developed to protect sage grouse mating areas, and concerns about how turbines would affect the view.
Despite the dropped projects, the company is still moving forward with its Quaking Aspen project.
The facility, slated for about 10,000 acres of mixed private and public land just south of Rock Springs, is expected to generate about 80 megawatts from about 40 turbines.
Cowan said the project is largely contingent on completion of the Gateway West transmission line, although EDF will likely look out for other transmission opportunities.
“It’s all contingent upon identifying transmission,” he said. “I think right now, we’re looking at a 2018 to 2021 timeline” for completion.
Calls to Wasatch Wind and Third Planet Windpower, companies which between them have previously announced three wind projects in Wyoming, went unanswered. Representatives from Shell Wind Power, the company planning a 25-turbine facility in southeast Wyoming, declined to discuss its project.
Another company, Whirlwind LLC, is keeping a Wyoming project relatively motionless.
Wold, who also represents Pathfinder, said the company’s Lonesome Bronco project north of Rock Springs is on hold.
“It’s transmission that’s holding that one up,” Wold said.
The project is expected to eventually generate between 75 and 150 megawatts of wind power.
Wold said Lonesome Bronco, like many projects, can’t move forward without a clear path to sell its product. But those paths don’t exist – at least not yet.
“There’s no transmission to get any projects to market right now,” she said. “You can spend a lot of money developing a project, but unless you have an outlet to the market, there’s a risk spending those dollars.
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