LARAMIE – Residents of Albany County and Laramie business owners gathered at the county Planning and Zoning Commission Board meeting last week to encourage the board to vote for a moratorium on wind energy applications in Albany County.
The purpose of the moratorium, as expressed by the residents during the Feb. 12 meeting, is to give the county a chance to evaluate and revise its wind energy regulations. The matter of wind regulations arose as residents found out about the Rail Tie Wind Project.
Powered by a Houston-based renewable energy company named ConnectGen, the project will be located on private and state lands near U.S. Highway 287 outside of Tie Siding – if the project passes federal, state and county permitting processes.
“My problem here is that we’re looking at a project which suddenly came upon us and which we know little about, and having had that occur this way raises some degree of suspicion,” Board Member David Cunningham said before the public comment period began Wednesday.
Cunningham then said he wanted to place a moratorium on wind projects of any kind in Albany County for the next 6 months so that the county has time to review and upgrade the wind regulations.
Following Cunningham’s comments, the public applauded.
Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent brought up some concerns she had with placing a moratorium on wind energy development.
“We’ve got to have a plan of why we’re doing it, and not just because we’re fearful of this plan coming forward,” Trent said. She encouraged the board to take the moratorium idea to its March meeting.
If the planning board does vote on a moratorium in March, the measure will still have to go before the county commissioners for a final sign-off.
There were 26 residents who live near the proposed wind farm site or own a business in Laramie expressing concerns about the project. Several others attending the meeting shared similar sentiments.
“Two concerns I’d like the county to address are impacts on tourism and also air and safety concerns,” Paul Montoya said. Montoya and his wife own the Vista de la Luna Bed & Breakfast located on Monument Road.
Montoya said their B& B attracts visitors from all over the world who want to see the “unspoiled West.” He said the county should consider that tax revenue on wind generation would be minor compared to what tourism brings into the county.
According to Connect-Gen’s website, Albany County will receive a one-time earning of $14.6 million in the construction sales and $1.5 million annually between sales and use tax and excise tax on wind generation. The property tax for the first year is forecast at $4.6 million.
Residents brought up numerous concerns including decreases in surrounding land value, obstruction of views, wildlife, and wear and tear on the highway that could occur from the wind project installation.
“These natural far-reaching views are why people build homes in Albany County,” Larry James said.
James is a homeowner near the proposed project area and commented that he and his wife would not have built their home in that location if they had known there would be wind turbines there.
Some residents were also concerned for the Casper Aquifer.
“These bases, for each one of these wind turbines because of their massive size, are at least 15 to 30 feet deep,” county resident Jennifer Kirchhoefer
said. “There’s a chance that they could fracture the ground and contaminate our water.”
Kirchhoefer, who lives south of Laramie near the wind farm proposal area, brought petitions to the board that were signed by county residents who also live in the proposed area. Many of the individuals who spoke brought petitions signed by multiple people proposing a moratorium on wind energy applications.
“As for the request to pass a moratorium on wind energy development, that does seem like it would be overkill in a way,” Rail Tie Wind Project Manager Amanda McDonald said after the meeting.
ConnectGen is looking to send in an application to the county in about a year. Because of this, MacDonald said the county has time to revise its wind regulations without putting a moratorium on wind energy development.
“I do worry that the county making that kind of decision could scare away other future developers from considering Albany County as a good place for wind development,” MacDonald said. The wind project is in the first stages of getting an environmental impact statement, or EIS. The EIS is federally required for ConnectGen to get the Western Area Power Administration’s approval to connect the wind project to the nearby Ault-Craig 345-kilo-Volt transmission line.
As part of the EIS process, there were two scoping meetings at the Hilton Garden Inn last month, where community members had an opportunity to learn about the project. Following the scoping meetings, the public had about two weeks to send comments to WAPA.
By the beginning of March, WAPA will publish a scoping report that summarizes and categorizes the public comments. Following the scoping report, WAPA will complete a draft of the EIS, predicted to be completed by the end of this year. That draft will go through a public comment hearing before WAPA publishes a final EIS in mid-2021.
The project will also have to go through separate state and county permitting processes. ConnectGen anticipates having the wind project operational by the end of 2022.
The wind project is in the first stages of getting an environmental impact statement, or EIS.
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