The Obama administration continues to move a massive wind farm project that proposes to string together 1,000 turbines across nearly 220,000 acres of public and private lands in southeast Wyoming closer to construction.
The Bureau of Land Management this week issued a preliminary environmental assessment (EA) of some of the infrastructure projects needed to build the massive Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which would have the capacity to produce up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity, making it the biggest power-producing wind farm in North America.
The EA covers only what company officials call the “base infrastructure” associated with the first 500 wind turbines, such as a quarry to supply materials for road construction, access roads and a rail distribution facility that will be used to deliver the massive wind turbines to the project site.
BLM already issued a final environmental impact statement (EIS) and record of decision (ROD) in 2012 for the project. But the ROD only authorized BLM to proceed with site-specific environmental analysis for the wind farm, including a 230-kilovolt transmission line.
In addition to the EA, BLM this week also released a draft finding of no significant impact (FONSI) concluding that the project would not cause any significant additional impacts beyond what was analyzed in the final EIS and ROD nearly two years ago.
“This is another important milestone that brings the project even closer to the end of the permitting road,” said Kara Choquette, a spokeswoman for Power Company of Wyoming LLC, the project proponent. “As the BLM noted, the EA analysis showed there are no new or significant impacts that were identified beyond those already disclosed in the projectwide EIS.”
The preliminary EA and FONSI are now open for a 30-day public comment period that runs through Sept. 10. BLM has scheduled two open houses in Wyoming for later this month to gather public comment.
It’s not clear when the EA and FONSI will be finalized. That will depend on the public comments BLM receives on the two documents, and whether the comments “highlight gaps in data or analysis,” said Shelley Gregory, an agency spokeswoman in Wyoming.
Power Company of Wyoming, however, is confident this phase of the federal review will move forward.
“After this comment period ends, we anticipate that the BLM’s draft Finding of No Significant Impact and Decision Record will be finalized, which clears the way for the necessary right-of-way grant to be issued to PCW for the rail facility, haul road and quarry – all critical infrastructure for Phase I wind development,” Choquette said in an emailed statement.
The preliminary EA is one of two that BLM is currently conducting as part of the site-specific analysis mandated in the ROD.
The second EA is specific to evaluating the first 500 turbines themselves. The goal is to ensure that the project’s proposed impacts comply with conditions laid out in the ROD, such as surface disturbance limits. BLM will also evaluate planned underground and overhead electrical and communication lines, as well as operation and maintenance facilities, Choquette said.
The second EA is not expected to be released until the end of the year, she said.
Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a separate EIS of the project to study its effects on golden eagles, meaning the agency could issue a so-called take permit allowing the project to harm or kill a certain number of eagles each year.
Fish and Wildlife’s EIS would consider only the first 500 wind turbines.
A final EIS approving or denying an eagle take permit is expected by early 2015.
Power Company of Wyoming has applied for a 30-year take permit.
The state last week approved an industrial siting permit for the wind power project – the final major state permit needed before the project could proceed to the construction phase (Greenwire, Aug. 8).
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