The Albany County Board of Commissioners adopted minor amendments to the county’s industrial wind energy siting regulations even as public calls continue for more substantial changes.
During a public hearing Tuesday morning, a couple dozen people weighed in on the potential of wind energy in the county. No one quibbled with the amendments up for consideration, while disagreement remained as to whether existing regulations are sufficient to provide adequate oversight of future development.
County planner David Gertsch said the amendments up for consideration Tuesday morning would bring the county’s regulations in line with state statutes. Changes include clarifying the definition of enlargement, adding language about transmission lines and mineral rights inclusion in notices and adding language about road maintenance agreements with the state.
“At this point, I think we need to get these things in place so we are up to state standards, so if we do get a permit we have everything in our rules to go forward,” he said.
Commissioners Terri Jones and Heber Richardson approved the amendments, while Commissioner Pete Gosar voted against, saying approval “takes the onus off of us to do a good job on this.”
During the Sept. 1, meeting, Gosar unsuccessfully requested the commission enlist the Environmental Advisory Council to review the county’s regulations and recommend changes. The committee, appointed jointly by the Laramie City Council and the Board of Commissioners, exists to analyze environmental issues and advise both bodies.
Gosar said the commission should be patient in its updates.
“A couple months would be more than enough time to make this happen, and I think we should take the time to do this right,” he said.
Richardson said adopting the state’s standards doesn’t mean additional changes are off the table.
“This doesn’t necessarily exclude any further work,” he said. “This is a step.”
Meanwhile, a group called Albany County for Smart Energy Development turned in more than 1,200 signatures to the commission, collected in the last three weeks, asking commissioners to review and amend existing regulations.
Group members Paul Montoya, Jennifer Kirchhoefer and Kira Poulson read a statement in front of the Albany County Courthouse Monday morning before presenting 1,224 signatures to the county clerk.
The petition states: “Albany County’s current industrial wind energy regulations do not adequately protect the county’s natural resources, nor do they ensure the health, safety and quality of life of the residents, businesses and recreational users in proximity of these facilities. I request the county immediately review and amend existing regulations.”
Montoya said he started the petition in order to show commissioners that public support for updating the regulations extends beyond the people who are able to attend the meetings and make public comments. He added that the group does not oppose wind and solar energy development per se.
“This petition is not a referendum,” he said. “We only use it to demonstrate to the county the desire of its residents to add protections for its residents and natural resources for this and future generations, through properly locating industrial wind turbines in this county. We’ve seen the expansive growth in adjacent counties and feel this is a great opportunity for our county leaders to move forward in proper planning.”
The group’s concerns include setbacks, light pollution, roads, financial transparency of companies and proximity of turbines to communities and recreation areas.
During Tuesday’s public hearing, some commenters said existing regulations were sufficient.
“I think it’s important we not create more road blocks for renewables,” said Mike Selmer, founder of Wyoming Climate Activists. “We have a strong and comprehensive process for siting wind projects. We should allow this process to work its way through without any additional road blocks.”
Tie Siding resident and rancher Dennis Craig favored limiting changes to existing regulations.
“Wind energy would help allow my family to continue the ranching business,” he said. “Additional restrictive regulations could stop wind development in Albany County.”
Wind energy became a hot topic in Albany County when Texas-based renewable energy company ConnectGen announced plans to build a 504-megawatt wind farm south of Laramie near Tie Siding. The potential Rail Tie Wind Project could include 85-150 turbines on 26,000 acres of state and private land on both sides of U.S. Highway 287.
A draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected by the end of the year, while state and county permitting has yet to get underway.
In July, the Planning and Zoning Commission supported the amendments adopted Tuesday without ruling out its support for possible additional changes.