Summit County’s first wind farm is moving toward approval and a public hearing Thursday will likely result in the developers being granted the permit they need to start building.
The project is on the far east side of the county, nearer to Evanston, Wyoming, than to any Utah population center.
Eastern Summit County Planning Commission Chair Tom Clyde said he’s surprised there hasn’t been more public interest in the project, with a previous scheduled public hearing sparsely attended.
“It seems odd that we can do three meetings on whether someone can do a wedding reception at their barn, and here we’ve got 6,000 acres with 40 of these giant wind turbines on it, and people are like ‘OK,’” Clyde said. “Nobody seems to be highly impacted by it.”
The Echo Divide Wind Park would use up to 39 turbines along the Utah-Wyoming border south of Interstate 80 to generate up to 100 megawatts of electricity, according to the application for the project filed with the county. That’s enough energy to power about 21,730 homes, which Summit County sustainability program manager Lisa Yoder points out is about 80 percent of the total in Summit County. The turbines could be as tall as 500 feet.
Enyo Renewable Energy is leasing the land from companies at least partially owned by Summit County Councilor Chris Robinson. At a June County Council meeting, Robinson announced that one of his companies owns the land Enyo wants to use for the wind farm. He would receive royalties from the project if it were to go forward, he said during the meeting.
The project does not have to be approved by the County Council; if it is awarded a conditional use permit, it would be allowed to operate with the permission of the Planning Commission. Robinson could potentially be involved if the County Council is called upon to settle a land-use appeal, but that does not appear likely, and he could recuse himself if that situation arose. Summit County would receive taxes on the improvements to the land.
Clyde said Robinson owning the land has not affected his judgment on the issue, and Robinson has not attempted to influence the process.
“His name is there in the staff report,” Clyde said. “The reality is he’s a huge landowner in that area and that happens. He’s going to come in and do what he wants to in his land.”
Robinson estimated his land holdings at about 300,000 acres. He said the project fits into his general land management strategy of trying to create value from by using elements like the sun, wind and rain as natural inputs. He has solar energy projects on at least three of his other holdings, doing work like powering irrigation systems.
He has known Enyo Renewable Energy’s founder Christine Mikell for years, he said, and had approached her in the past about this project. He said he’s been working to start or attract a wind farm project since 2002, but has never been able to make it work. In 2008, Robinson invested about $200,000 to study the feasibility of a wind farm on the land, hiring a consultant to install 60-meter meteorological towers so he would know whether such a project could be successful.
Robinson said he does not see his ownership of the land as a conflict, and that he’s successfully endeavored for years to separate county business from his personal business.
Enyo had hoped to receive the conditional use permit at an Aug. 15 public hearing, but the Planning Commission couldn’t take action on it because the body lacked a quorum. Clyde said they decided not to cancel the meeting in case members of the public had made the trip to weigh in on the project.
Emily Skill, a project developer with the firm, said she’d hoped the permit would be in place by now, but that the delay hadn’t unduly affected the company.
Enyo has three other renewable energy projects working their way through negotiations with firms that might purchase the power they generate, Skill said, and has its hands full securing those contracts. The firm has secured an interconnection agreement with Rocky Mountain Power for the Summit County wind farm that allows it to hook up to the utility company’s grid, but so far does not have a purchaser in place to buy the power it generates.
Skill said 2021 would be an optimistic date to begin generating electricity. Since the project has a construction time of nine months to a year, that means crews would break ground as early as next spring to meet that date.