During a public meeting Wednesday morning, energy company ConnectGen outlined more details about the proposed Rail Tie Wind Project.
Houston-based ConnectGen, a clean-energy subsidiary of Quantum Energy Partners, is preparing for federal, state and county permitting this year, with hopes of beginning construction of the wind project during the spring of 2022.
A draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Western Area Power Administration is expected by the end of March, according to project manager Amanda MacDonald. The administration owns the transmission line to which the Rail Tie project would connect.
The federal permitting process takes about two years and was started at the beginning of 2020. A public comment period and public hearing will be scheduled after the draft EIS is released, followed by the final EIS this fall and then a record of decision.
Meanwhile, ConnectGen is preparing an application for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Industrial Siting Division, which includes the requirement of this week’s public meetings.
An application for an Albany County Wind Energy Conversion System will also be submitted this spring, which will provide more opportunities for public comment. MacDonald said ConnectGen expects that all permitting will be completed by the end of the year.
The proposed Rail Tie site is located about 15 miles south of Laramie on public and private land on both sides of U.S. Highway 287 near Tie Siding. The northernmost part of the 26,000-acre project reaches a couple miles south of Interstate 80.
MacDonald said southern Albany County was selected for the project after a “robust site-screening exercise that started with the entire state.” The presence of the transmission line was a major factor.
“The lack of high voltage transmission lines has been a limiting factor for wind development in Wyoming,” she said.
The project was sited to avoid sage grouse core areas, big game migration corridors and other wildlife conservation areas.
“Any large wind project is going to have environmental impacts,” she said. “However, the project avoids some of the more environmentally sensitive areas in Wyoming.”
MacDonald said construction would occur in two phases, with the western portion of the project built first as it is closer to the transmission line, which runs through the southern half of the project area. Turbine corridors run north to south to best capture the wind that comes mainly from the west.
The 500-megawatt project proposes 120 V150-4.2 turbines manufactured by Vestas Wind Systems, which are 590.5 feet tall at the tip of the blade. The project would also include access roads, collection lines, a management facility, two substations, an interconnection switchyard and three meteorological towers
John Kuba, ConnectGen’s director of environmental affairs, said a comprehensive environmental review has been in the works for a couple years. Areas of focus include air quality, aquatic resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, hazardous materials, land use, noise, paleontological resources, shadow flicker, socioeconomic impacts, transportation, visual impacts and biological resources.
In considering possible impacts to birds and bats, ConnectGen consulted guidelines issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Studies underway since 2019 include year-round observations, aerial nest surveys and acoustic monitoring.
Kuba said he’s learning about a new detection system that could minimize the occurrence of birds colliding with turbines by allowing some turbines to be turned off at certain times.
“We do think it could be very useful for projects such as Rail Tie in helping reduce the risk of collision,” he said.
ConnectGen has also been surveying for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, burrowing owl and swift fox.
As part of the federal process, there must be a review of cultural resources that considers the impact on nearby historic sites. For example, the Ames Monument that sits along I-80 is a U.S. National Historic Landmark and on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Kuba said the nearest turbine would be just more than a mile from the monument and would be visible to the south.
“We do anticipate there to be visible impacts,” he said.
The turbines would be required to be topped with flashing red aviation lights to alert aircraft at night, though ConnectGen plans to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to install lights that operate only when aircraft are in the area.
Noise studies along project boundaries show that operational sound levels will not exceed the county’s limits, he said.
Kuba said the Rail Tie proposal includes more than 100 environmental protection measures mandated by the various permitting entities.
“These plans provide strong protections for resources during the full life of the project,” he said.
MacDonald said the 20-month construction period would involve 120 workers and contribute $14.6 million in taxes to Albany County, plus associated economic benefits from employees. Most workers would come from outside Wyoming simply because of the number needed, she said.
“ConnectGen will work with the construction contractors to prioritize the hiring of qualified Wyoming residents to construct the project,” she said.
During the 35-year life of the project, Albany County would receive an estimated $3.3 million a year in sales and use taxes, excise taxes and property taxes, she said.
In a reversal of a previous decision, the State Board of Land Commissioners agreed in January to allow the project onto 4,800 acres of School Trust Land, where’s it’s expected to generate $20 million for public education during the project lifetime.
Additional public feedback, to be incorporated into the industrial siting permit, will be accepted until Feb. 26.
Comments can be submitted by email at email@example.com, by phone at (888) 910-9717 or by mail to: Amanda MacDonald, Project Manager, ConnectGen LLC, 1001 McKinney St. Suite 700, Houston, TX 77002. Go to www.railtiewind.com for more information.
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