RAWLINS – The Bureau of Land Management has finally approved the construction of 500 wind turbines, the first phase of a two-phase wind power project that will take shape in the Chokecherry/Sierra Madre region just outside of Rawlins.
In a joint release with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the BLM announced its approval of the project, which is expected to bring jobs and revenue to Wyoming and Carbon County.
“It’s very gratifying to be at this stage, we appreciate so much the support we’ve received from the community along the way and the hard work of the Rawlins BLM field office,” said Kara Choquette, director of communications for Power Company of Wyoming, the company spearheading the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, set to be the largest such project in North America.
The entire project is expected to support 1,200 jobs at peak construction, according to the release, and is also expected to create more than 100 permanent positions in operations and maintenance. Phase One of the project is estimated to generate almost $200 million in property-tax revenue during construction and over the first 20 years of operation.
PCW estimates Phase One will also contribute $116 million from sales taxes and $118 million from a state wind-electricity tax over 20 years.
With approval given from federal agencies, the next step for the wind project, Choquette said, is to continue the construction of the infrastructure needed to build 500 turbines. That process is supposed to take about two years.
“Just the road work created upwards of 40 jobs or so,” Choquette said. “The first couple of years is building the base infrastructure. Employment will peak in a couple of years.”
Choquette said that once the infrastructure is in place, the amount of jobs generated would rocket up as construction of the turbines proper ensues.
“It’s not just the turbine technicians, but it’s also jobs like operators, running heavy equipment, there’s a lot of ranges of jobs required to build an energy project of any kind,” Choquette said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s concern was with administering the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which allows for limited take of eagles under certain conditions. According to the release, FWS “determined it could issue eagle take permits for the project as requested, which included significant avoidance, minimization and compensatory mitigation measures.”
The release stated that FWS analysis indicated that likely one-to-two bald eagles and 10-14 golden eagles would be harmed or killed per year by the wind energy project.
“The ultimate take away from this project is when folks come together, industry and government and conservationists, we can pursue our renewable energy goals and help wildlife at the same time,” Ryan Moehring, public affairs specialist for the FWS, said in a phone interview.
“The Power Company of Wyoming is trying to be on the right side of the law. There is an allowance under the law for the FWS to issue permits to allow the take of eagles provided there isn’t a net loss to eagles overall.”
Moehring said that PCW would have to take measures to help eliminate eagle take in other areas to qualify for an eagle take permit. These measures will include providing funding for retrofitting existing power lines that currently pose high risk to eagles. Retrofitting, Moehring said, is the only mitigation strategy, or a safeguard to protect eagle lives, that the FSW is willing to accept.
In addition to the eagle take permit, FSW is also expecting to issue a construction permit.
“This construction permit allows for disturbance of eagles,” Moehring said. “There are some nesting areas in the construction area, so we’ve determined that eagle disturbance is likely. (PCW) technically doesn’t need (a construction permit) but we’re providing that because they’ve been working (so well with us).”
“Those folks have really worked hard to get the environmental analysis done,” Choquette said. “It’s been a long road and it’s a great milestone.”
The BLM administers approximately half of the land associated with the site, according to the release, with the remainder made up of privately and state-owned lands.
When fully operational, the project will be capable of generating up to 3,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power, which is enough to power nearly one million homes, the release stated.
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