A subsidiary of Anschutz Corp. obtained the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council’s unanimous approval on Aug. 6 for its 3,000-MW Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in Carbon County, Wyo., making a 2015 project start now likely.
The governor-appointed, seven-member council approved the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Industrial Siting Division’s recommendation for approval of the 1,000-turbine project to be built in two 500-turbine phases across 170,000 acres of the Overland Trail Ranch starting about three miles south of Rawlins, Wyo., which is on Interstate 80.
Anschutz subsidiary Power Co. of Wyoming spokeswoman Kara Choquette said her company is still evaluating what turbine technology and maker will be selected. Each turbine will be up to 3 MW and the towers will be up to 328 feet tall, she said in Aug. 8 phone interview.
Power production could begin in 2018 and the site will produce 10.5 million MWh per year at full build-out, Choquette said. The company estimates the wind farm will have a capacity factor of 40%. The complete project will be built over eight years, she said. “We have the best wind resources in country,” especially on the western side of the project where the first phase will be built, she said.
PCW still must get federal right-of-way approval from the Bureau of Land Management, but it obtained an environmental impact statement approval from the BLM in October 2012 and has submitted two follow-up environmental assessments of the project’s final plans in order to obtain right-of-way approval to begin construction, Choquette said. The BLM is expected to issue the first environmental assessment for public comment during the week of Aug. 11.
“These EA documents evaluated PCW’s site-specific plans of development for Phase I base infrastructure and the first 500 turbines to ensure the plans comport with the project-wide EIS conditions and requirements,” Choquette said in a follow-up email. “The first EA is to be published next week, and the second EA by the end of the year. Based on the analysis in those EA’s, the BLM is then anticipated to issue Decision Records and Right-of-Way grants.”
The permanent land disturbance across the entire site will only be about 2,000 acres for towers, roads and transmission facilities, so cattle ranching operations will continue even when the wind farm is in full operation, Choquette said.
The company has configured the wind towers with two to four miles of vacant land separating the northern Chokecherry and the southern Sierra Madre portions of the project and is applying for a permanent land conservation easement to preserve a major portion of the 320,000 acre ranch for sage grouse habitat, she said.
“PCW’s application for an eagle permit for the first 500 turbines is under a separate EIS review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” she said. “The draft EIS anticipated out by the end of the year.”
The Union Pacific Railway’s main line runs along the site and will be used to ship turbines and towers to the project. A two-mile rail distribution spur and unloading facility will be built in the project site for that purpose, Choquette said.
The ranch and project site are composed of a checkerboard pattern of square-mile sections of alternating ownership of federal and privately held land as determined when the railroad was built in the 19th century. Regardless of land ownership, the entire project needed a state permit to move forward, she said. The ranch owners have long-standing grazing rights to the federal parcels.
“One of the beautiful things about wind energy is that each turbine’s footprint is small so the cattle can continue to graze and wildlife can use the place as before,” Choquette said.
Three major transmission projects, including Anschutz subsidiary TransWest Express’s project and Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary PacifiCorp’s Gateway West and Gateway South projects, are proposed to be routed through the northern edge of the wind project site. “We are completely aligned with those major transmission corridors in Wyoming,” she said.
The company will pursue power purchase agreements and/or ownership sales after the permits are in place to provide certainty to interested parties, Choquette said. “Our company decided to do the permitting first and de-risk the project,” she said, continuing that the company has completely funded about $45 million on permitting and development activities including engineering, wildlife studies and seven years of wind resource measuring and monitoring.
PCW plans to keep 35% equity in the project, with the rest to be funded through debt, she said.
The plan is to sell power into California, Arizona and Nevada. These states have densely populated cities and high renewable portfolio standards, and Wyoming already exports about two-thirds of its power, Choquette said.
The developer never planned to qualify for the federal production tax credit, she said. The PTC expired at the end of 2013. The Internal Revenue Service in September 2013 said projects that are placed in service by the end of 2015 would qualify for the PTC as long as significant construction started before the credit expired or they incurred at least 5% of project costs. The IRS on Aug. 8 provided new guidance on qualifying for the PTC’s “physical work” test, indicating that the agency will evaluate projects with an eye toward the nature of work that developers completed before the end of 2013, rather than the amount of work or its cost.
“We have a compelling economic case that is not dependent upon the tax credit,” she said.
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