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Public Service Commission approves expansion of Corriedale wind project

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Public Service Commission approved an expansion of the planned Corriedale Wind Energy Project to include an additional five wind turbines during its meeting Thursday afternoon.

The application for the wind farm, submitted by Black Hills Power and its subsidiary, Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Company (aka Black Hills Energy), was initially approved in July. With the commission’s approval Thursday, the project will expand from 16 to 21 wind turbines.

The wind farm is expected to open off the Otto Road exit of Interstate 80 west of Cheyenne next October. With the expansion, the project is estimated to cost $78.6 million.

The wind farm initially had a capacity of 40 megawatts per hour, split evenly between the two entities. The proposed expansion would add 12.5 megawatts per hour to the project’s capacity, with that additional energy going only to Black Hills Power.

Through the project’s Renewable Ready Service Tariff, commercial, industrial and governmental customers who use more than 300,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year will be eligible to access energy generated by the wind farm. Participants would be able to enter into contracts with the company to access renewable energy for periods of five to 25 years.

During the meeting, Kyle White, Black Hills Power vice president of regulatory strategy, said the expansion was deemed necessary after holding a subscription period to gauge customers’ interest.

“Black Hills Power had pretty significant interest during the 30-day window that customers had an opportunity to make a formal application to participate in the program,” White said.

Through its decision, the commission deemed a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity unnecessary for the expansion. Black Hills argued since it already received a certificate for the initial project, Wyoming statute permits increasing the project’s capacity without obtaining an additional certificate.

Commission Chairwoman Kara Fornstrom said the provision in Wyoming statute was added a few years ago to make the process more efficient, though she added the change was implemented with other issues in mind.

“I have to tell you that you are now part of a long line of situations that, in my mind, are falling on the very outside of what we had even contemplated at the time that we allowed this into our rules,” Fornstrom said. “So any hesitancy that you’re sensing today is just because this really isn’t how we envisioned this component of the rule working.”

Before moving to approve the request, Deputy Chairwoman Mary Throne agreed with Fornstrom, noting that the company was “very close to the line here.”

“In the future, if you can anticipate this situation and perhaps include everything in the original (certificate), don’t be afraid to do that,” Throne said.

The commission also approved the company’s request for a waiver of the normal 10-business-day response time. White said after the subscription period, the company asked General Electric, which provides the wind turbines, if they could expand their order.

White said Cheyenne Light’s subscription period saw demand for 18.5 megawatts of the electricity generated by the wind farm, though he expects other subscriptions will fill the remaining energy allocation.

“Since the open season closed in September, we have had indications of interest from other customers, one of them actually stating that any interest in Cheyenne Light’s 20 megawatts that’s not subscribed, they would like to fill out the rest of the subscription,” White said.

In an interview following the meeting, Jason Hartman, Black Hills Power director of generation project engineering, said construction on the wind farm is set to begin this spring.

“As far as a number (of jobs), I don’t have one, but I do know that our general contractor will be looking to hire as much as possible locally,” Hartman said.

While the company will look to hire locally for initial construction on the farm, a traveling specialized team will work on technology for the turbines. White said the expansion granted Thursday won’t change the staffing over the 25-year lifespan of the project.

“We’re very thankful for the commission’s support of the project, as they approved it back in July, and their understanding of our need for an exception to their (certificate) rules and the urgency with which they dealt with our request,” White said. “This is a really good day for Wyoming.”