The Anticline Wind Project is one step closer to construction. It still has a long way to go.
After five hours of community debate and a good deal of private soul-searching, the Natrona Board of County Commissioners signed off on the proposed wind farm’s conditional siting permit by a vote of 4-1, even after the county’s planning and zoning commission recommended denying the permit last month.
“I really didn’t know, until the end, which way it might go,” said county attorney Eric Nelson. During the hearing and in a later interview with the Star-Tribune, Nelson emphasized that unless commissioners found evidence that the project did not meet permit criteria, they were required under state and county law to approve it regardless of their own attitudes toward wind farms.
The project, which is expected to consist of between 33 and 52 wind turbines spanning 24,000 acres of land, have a generation capacity of up to 175 megawatts and bring several permanent jobs to Antelope Hills, must now win approval from the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council. The council’s decisional discretion is bound by similar regulations to those governing the Natrona County Commissioners.
“The industrial siting review process is very comprehensive,” said Christine Mikell, principal developer at Enyo Renewable Energy, the company behind the Anticline project. “It’s almost equivalent to an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment that you might do with the federal government.”
An environmental assessment is a process mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act that reviews the local consequences of development. If a project is found to have any significant effects, it will undergo further scrutiny through an environmental assessment.
It won’t be clear whether Anticline will have to obtain additional permits at the state or federal level – such as a state construction permit, a federal environmental assessment or a water crossing permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers – until the industrial siting process is complete.
Meanwhile, the project’s developer negotiated a commitment with Rocky Mountain Power to connect to the utility’s existing electric system and is currently working out a power purchase agreement for the wind farm’s output.
Mikell anticipates starting construction in late 2023 or early 2024. Before that, “there’s many steps that we still need to go through,” she said.
Once Anticline’s permit application has been submitted to the Industrial Siting Division of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the agency will complete a review of the proposal. The Industrial Siting Council, a governor-appointed body, will then vote on the permit at a public hearing within 90 days of application receipt, and will publish a written decision finalizing the permit in the next 45 days.
“Much like the county permit, in which the county went out and reached out to all the local agencies, the state will do the same thing – so basically mimic what was done at the county. But they’ll look more at the socioeconomic impacts of the project,” Mikell said.
The industrial siting review process involves a laundry list of considerations, including – but not limited to – scenic resources, recreational resources, archaeological resources, land use patterns, economic base housing, transportation, sewer and water, terrestrial and aquatic life, agriculture, water supply, police and fire, solid waste and transportation.
“You can imagine a big wind farm moving to a place like Hanna, Wyoming, and the workforce overwhelming their social service systems,” said Luke Esch, industrial siting administrator for the Department of Environmental Quality. The agency’s review is intended to ensure that development doesn’t place an undue burden on surrounding communities.
It’s a more rigorous permitting process than in some neighboring states, like Utah, which imposes less state-level oversight on wind development. But according to Esch, Wyoming’s rural nature means its smaller communities are particularly vulnerable to large influxes of workers.
“The Legislature put this process in place to make sure that impacts from large industrial projects are at least known and communicated to local governments,” he said.