Albany County’s planning and zoning board moved forward with recommending changes to regulations on wind energy on Wednesday designed to bring the county in line with state statute, but they haven’t ruled out even more stringent measures.
The Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission scheduled a special meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss wind energy regulations. The topic became a matter of tension this year amid plans by ConnectGen, a renewable energy development company based out of Texas, to construct a 504-megawatt wind farm stretching across state and private land on both sides of U.S. Highway 287 just south of Laramie. Between 85 and 150 turbines, depending on the yet-to-be determined turbine model, could span 26,000 acres near Tie Siding.
Opposition to the project resulted in more than 60 landowners and residents in the area to hire attorney Mitch Edwards, who presented a set of regulatory proposals during the planning and zoning board’s June meeting that developers said would essentially kill the ConnectGen project and prevent other projects from moving forward in the county, as well.
The planning and zoning commission showed interest in Edwards’ proposals and scheduled Wednesday morning’s meeting with the intent of hearing from multiple interested parties on all sides of the issue. That plan was complicated, however, by Edwards saying he’s now quarantining after recently coming in contact with a possible carrier of COVID-19 and was not able to make the full presentation he planned for Wednesday morning.
Edwards and ConnectGen both made brief presentations, as did a representative from the state Industrial Siting Council, which has responsibility for permitting wind projects, and a planner from Laramie County, which is seeing the construction of the Roundhouse Wind Energy Project just west of Cheyenne.
The proposed regulations from Edwards stood in stark contrast to regulations proposed by the Albany County Planning office. While there wasn’t a lot of change needed to the current regulations, county planner David Gertsch said he did address some areas, including clarifying the definition of enlargement, adding language about transmission lines and mineral rights inclusion in notices, and language regarding road maintenance agreements with the state for travel impacts. ConnectGen representatives have in the past said they have no issue with the planning office’s amendments.
Public comments during the 4 p.m. planning and zoning commission meeting showed a strong presence of opponents to the Rail Tie project, as has been the case with past meetings. Around a dozen expressed their hope that the planning and zoning board would take a deeper look at the regulations Edwards proposed and consider taking a trip to Laramie County to see the Roundhouse project’s impact on residents. Most emphasized concerns with health and safety, wildlife, livestock, the interference with scenic vistas, property values and more.
“I implore you commissioners to please review Mr. Edwards’ suggestions, and at a minimum incorporate some of the setbacks and changes and regulations to lessen impacts on residents, visitors and their grandchildren,” Sue Dow said. “This is a beautiful alley and I would hate to see us sell out all of our wonderful vistas and reputation as the gateway to beautiful Wyoming with a wind farm.”
Two proponents of renewable energy in Wyoming spoke during public comment and reemphasized what ConnectGen representatives have said since June: Edwards’ proposals would kill wind energy development in Albany County.
“The county processes out there with the Industrial Siting Council protect the interests sought to be protected here and also allow for wind and economic development to ensue,” said Tom Darin, Western state affairs director for the American Wind Energy Association, who lives in Jackson.
Edwards said he never asked the commissioners to accept his proposal wholesale, but emphasized the discussion should be had.
“There is a push by industry to not have that discussion,” Edwards said.
At the conclusion of the morning’s special meeting, chairman Shaun Moore said he agreed that Edwards’ proposals would stop wind energy development in the county, a sentiment Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent echoed.
That notion, Edwards argued, was a red herring and “exactly what wind industry would like to tell you.”
“That’s not the case, but that’s what they want to sell,” Edwards said.
Commissioner Keith Kennedy said he’d carefully examined Edwards’ proposed regulations and concluded, as ConnectGen suggested, that the proposal was designed to stop the Rail Tie project from moving forward.
“Those regulations as they’re written are meant to kill this specific project,” Kennedy said. “They were not written in the best interest of the county.”
Ultimately the commission voted 4-1, with David Cunningham voting against, to move forward with the amendments as recommended by the county planning office, with the idea that the board can revisit Edwards’s regulations again at the August meeting. The motion approved recommended the Albany County Commission adopt the planning office’s amendments and return to the planning board an idea of what the county commissioners would like to see in terms of wind energy regulation.