CASPER, Wyo. – The Natrona County Commission voted Tuesday to grant Anticline Wind LLC a conditional use permit to build an industrial wind project on private land north of Casper.
There project will now undergo an even more rigorous permitting process with the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council. If Anticline’s partner, Enyo Renewable Energy LLC, is able to clear state hurdles and secure funding, construction could begin in late 2024.
The commission spent five hours hearing testimony and public comment for and against the project from county staff, project managers, “noise experts,” and landowners.
Economic diversity and private property rights were evoked in favor, while many spoke against the visual impacts, and members of the Casper-Natrona County International Airport board voiced their opposition. Airport director Glenn Januska and board member Tom Van Cleef had also voiced their objections to the county’s Planning and Zoning advisory board earlier, which ultimately recommended denying the permit application.
County Attorney Eric Nelson began the hearing by reminding the public and the commission that unless fault could be found with the application or the county staff’s assurance that there would be no undue burden on county resources, state statute effectively mandated approval.
“Specifically I wanted to draw your attention to 18-5-507 (a),” Nelson said, “which says that the board ‘shall’ grant a permit if it determines that the proposed facility complies with all standards properly adopted by the board of county commissioners and the standards required by this article.”
“I despise renewable energy. I think it is one of the worst things that our country has pursued,” said Chairman Paul Bertoglio upon voting. “But, my feeling is immaterial to what the rule is in front of us.”
Bertoglio added that he could not see “any definitive arguable deficiencies” in the applicant’s presentation.
Up to 52 turbines would be built on 24,276 acres of private property owned by North Forgey Ranch Inc and Teapot Land LLC, according to the staff report by County Planning Department Director Trish Chavis.
The application and Enyo’s attorney John Masterson estimated state and local tax revenues over a 30-year span to be between $34.01 million and $60.7 million, including $18.7-$34 million in property taxes for the county.
The low end would account for a 33-turbine (100 MW) configuration, with the high end being from a 52-turbine (175 MW) configuration.
There would be visual impacts to the nearby Antelope Hills neighborhood, but Chavis noted that Anticline had committed to setting the turbines back one mile from any residence, a half mile more than in the initial application. This had been in deference to concern about viewshed and other concerns heard at a public hearing earlier this spring, said Christine Mikell, Enyo’s principal developer.
Notice about the proposal was sent to 447 property owners within 5 miles.
Van Cleef cited potential interference with ground-based navigation systems and potential impacts to the airport’s attractiveness as a place to train pilots.
“The airport board is saying that this will make the airport less safe for people that utilize the airport,” Januska said.
He disputed that the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval of “no-hazard” meant that it was entirely safe, and that it was the airport’s responsibility to ultimately ensure safety, not the FAA’s.
Ben Doyle, president of Capital Airspace Group, vouched the FAA’s findings, and said that Januska’s and Van Cleef’s arguments “defy logic.”
“The FAA cannot allow an unsafe flying environment,” Doyle said. “This is not assumption, this is math: there are geometries associated with each of these procedures. If this wind farm gets built, this airport’s operations will be safe.”
Commissioner Rob Hendry, himself a pilot, voted in favor of the proposal. He said that although he did not enjoy differing with the airport board, he believed “the ground, not towers,” would be the relevant problem for pilots in the “missed approach” scenario Van Cleef presented.
Commissioner Dave North was the only vote against the permit, saying that though he valued private property rights, he also valued the airport board’s opinion.
“Because of that, I really don’t believe I can support this tonight … because I don’t feel like I have enough information,” North said.
Mark Pasatch, cited as a “sound expert,” said noise impacts on homes would be less consequential than highway traffic. He also said there was “no evidence that disease or affliction can result” from frequencies emitted by wind farms, despite one speaker who raised concerns about a litany of presumed effects from “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”
Competing sources were also cited with regards to whether wind farms degrade property values. Ryan Fitzpatrick, development director of project management company NextEra Energy Resources, said studies had shown property values do not decline when wind farms are installed nearby, while another speaker said she found articles to the contrary from Forbes and other sources.
Fitzpatrick also said NextEra was committed was committed to keeping expired blades out of landfills, primarily by converting them into material for concrete.
The visual impact the 502-foot turbines would have on the view was a strong point of contention. Masterson said he found those claims “problematic.” His suggestion that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…” drew a smattering of jeers from the packed courtroom .
Scott Ames, who relocated from Massachusetts to the BB Brooks Ranch south of the proposed wind farm location, said, “If we had known this, we probably would have thought twice about where we ended up building.”
Ben Brooks, manager of the B.B. Brooks Ranch, wrote a letter advising the county he believed the wind farm would “impact property values and complicate future sales.”
Bill Allemand evoked the Fifth Amendment during his comment in favor: “’nor shall private property be taken for public use without compensation.’ Very clearly, that tells us that if we, the public, stop these wind turbines, we must pay just compensation to the landowners.”
Public speakers also brought up the county’s potential economic windfall when they spoke in favor of the project.
“Anything extra that our county can have is positive.” said Mary Owens, who said she had been a teacher in the Natrona County’s public and private schools for 30 years. “It’s not pleasant to sit in on meetings when our community schools are shut down because there’s not funding.”
Richard Grant, a Converse County commissioner, told the commission that the eight wind projects in the county have benefitted them when oil plummeted during the pandemic.
“Had it not been for that wind energy, our county would have suffered greatly. They picked up the slack with sales tax.”