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New wind project proposed for Albany County

A new 504-megawatt wind farm stretching across 26,000 acres of private and state land in southeast Albany County could come online as soon as 2022.

The Rail Tie Wind Project would flaunt upwards of 151 wind turbines on both sides of Highway 287 just outside Tie Siding and generate enough energy to power over 180,000 homes. Construction could start in the fall of 2021, if the project meets necessary federal and state regulations.

Houston-based renewable energy company ConnectGen will serve as the wind farm’s developer. Rail Tie marks the firm’s first project in Wyoming.

ConnectGen’s wind proposal comes at a time when market demand for renewable energy across the Western grid continues to expand, the company stated in a Jan. 14 presentation.

Construction and operation of the state’s newest proposed renewable energy farm could create 136 direct jobs during its 35-year lifespan, the company said. In addition, ConnectGen anticipates the Rail Tie will generate $133.5 million in taxes for the county and $45 million for the state over its lifetime.

“The project will contribute taxes through property taxes, sales and use taxes, and also Wyoming’s $1-per megawatt-hour wind production tax,” said Amanda MacDonald, Rail Tie’s project manager.

The company hopes to connect to the Ault-Craig 345-kilovolt transmission line already in operation in Albany County.

“One of the things that made us interested in this specific site was the existing (Western Area Power Administration) transmission line in the project area that has available transmission capacity to bring power to potential customers,” MacDonald said. “There are a lot of other wind projects underway in Wyoming that are relying on pretty massive, new transmission lines, so we prefer to look at opportunities to leverage existing transmission systems when we can.”

Western Area Power Administration is a power administration and marketing arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. If the agency approves the interconnection request, no new transmission lines will be constructed as part of the project, according to the company.

The federal government will also investigate potential impacts of the entire project, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The wind farm is now in the “scoping period,” a time when the federal government considers the potential environmental effects of the project, collects data and solicits public comment. After its review, the federal government will then publish an environmental impact statement for the entire wind project.

Western Area Power Administration held public meetings as part of the project’s scoping period on Tuesday in Laramie. Comments will be accepted through the end of January.

If the federal government approves the wind farm, the project will still have a long road ahead. It still needs to obtain a power purchase agreement and receive permits from both the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council and Albany County. Once the draft environmental impact statement is released, likely at the end of this year, ConnectGen will start applying for state and local approval, MacDonald said.

The Rail Tie Wind Project expands on what was known as the Hermosa West Wind Energy Project, a wind project proposed by Shell, but canceled in 2013, according to public documents. Though Rail Tie Wind will be located at the same site, ConnectGen’s project will be “completely separate” from Hermosa, according to MacDonald.

Roughly 1,500 megawatts in new wind capacity could come online throughout Wyoming’s blustery plains by the end of 2020, thanks in part to an impending year-end deadline to qualify for federal production tax credits.