March 12, 2020

Planning commission takes no action on wind moratorium

By Mary Rucinski | Laramie Boomerang | March 11, 2020 |

The Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission chose to take no action on passing a wind energy development moratorium at its Wednesday afternoon meeting.

The discussion came after a February 12 meeting in which many Albany County residents showed up to encourage the planning commission to pass a moratorium on wind energy development.

The moratorium was proposed in order to allow the commission time to examine the county’s wind energy development regulations and make changes to modernize them. The existing regulations were adopted in March 2009.

The demand to look at the county regulations is stems from a new potential wind energy development project called 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.

In the February meeting, planning commission member David Cunningham expressed support for the wind energy moratorium, which persisted into Wednesday’s meeting.

“If we place it now, it gives us the opportunity to explore and discover the issues that we might not even be aware of,” Cunningham said Wednesday.

The remaining four commission members, however, did not express support for passing a wind energy moratorium.

“I don’t know what we’re doing here, extending a moratorium for what?” Planning commission member John Spiegelberg said Wednesday. Spiegelberg continued to say the proposed wind project – the Rail Tie Wind Project – has not even put in an application for its project.

ConnectGen is looking to send in an application to the county in about a year.

When an application is sent to the county, the regulations which are in place when the application is received are the ones applied to the project. Theoretically, if ConnectGen sent in an application soon, the current regulations would be applied to the project.

ConnectGen is currently completing an Environmental Impact Statement draft which will be done in December 2020 at the earliest. ConnectGen plans to apply for a county permit following the completion of the EIS draft.

“This way the county can reference all the studies and information in the draft EIS to help aid their own review of the project,” Amanda MacDonald, project manager for Rail Tie, said in an email Wednesday.

Albany County Planner David Gertsch advised the commission not to pass a moratorium as there is not a clearly stated reason for it.

Gertsch said a moratorium would be usable if there was something deficient or problematic with the regulations, or if regulations didn’t exist. He ultimately said the regulations are comprehensive and match others throughout the country.

“Across the nation, at least the areas that I looked at or was able to find regulations for, ours are meeting or exceeding those for the most part, other than those counties that have a tower height, we don’t have a tower height,” Gertsch said.

In the case that the planning commission members want to revisit the regulations, Gertsch said they should do so without a moratorium.

“Without defining a substantial eminent problem that will have potential impacts to public health and safety and welfare of the county, it would be hard to support a moratorium,” Gertsch said.

Planning commission member Carl Miller also said he does not support a moratorium, but does not want to put the issue of reviewing the regulations on the backburner, as the current regulations were made without extremely tall turbines in mind.

The ConnectGen wind turbines will be between 485 and 675 feet tall.

Many Albany County residents who voiced opposition to the project at the February meeting also attended the meeting Wednesday. The planning commission took public comment following its decision to not do the moratorium, rather than before, a decision which Cunningham was OK with.

During public comment, support for a moratorium and opposition to the Rail Tie Wind Project continued for reasons of sound issues, viewshed concerns, wildlife disruption, industrialization in rural areas and much more.

“I would hope that both parties, and they probably don’t wanna do it, but it may be the best solution is to try to negotiate some of these differences,” Spiegelberg said.

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