After three meetings and months of discussion, a potential moratorium on energy development from the Board of Carbon County Commissioners (BOCCC) in the Shirley Basin failed by a vote of 2-3 on December 7.
The split vote from the county commissioners came after multiple individuals from Medicine Bow spoke out against the moratorium. Prior to the vote by the BOCCC, Chairman John Johnson allowed members of the public to comment on the potential action. Before the comments, however, Carbon County Attorney Ashley-Mayfield Davis provided some background on the potential action.
“For the public’s knowledge as well, essentially what has happened in the last three or four months is the Department of Game and Fish came and talked to the Board of County Commissioners about a study they’re doing on (a) pronghorn herd, specifically the Medicine Bow Pronghorn Herd Unit. It’s been a fairly recent study, I believe it’s six years total. I want to say we’re about three years in at this time, so we don’t have the results,” said Mayfield-Davis. “The concern from the commissioners is the migration of the pronghorn and whether energy development in this location, and too much energy development, is going to have a negative affect upon the herd. So, the commissioners have been discussing the last few meetings the idea of entering an emergency moratorium on energy development, specifically in the location where this pronghorn herd study is occurring.”
The length of the moratorium would have been for four months, or 120 days. This would have allowed both the BOCCC and the county planning and zoning commission to consider updates to the existing resolution for county planning and zoning. The 120 day period would also allow for those updates to receive discussion from and involvement with the public.
“One of the key points to the study is who sanctioned the study. The study is being done by the Game and Fish, but it’s also being sponsored by Rocky Mountain Power and Invenergy. I talked to Chase Martin this morning on my way in. He asked why we were doing this and I said because of a study sanctioned,” said Chairman John Johnson. “He appreciated the fact that we’re taking a pause to take a look at the study and see what we’re doing. Just so we can understand what the effects are going forward.”
Along with Rocky Mountain Power and Invenergy, BluEarth Renewables also sponsored the study by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD). BluEarth is also sponsoring two wind energy projects; Two Rivers and Lucky Star. While Two Rivers is entirely within the boundaries of Carbon County, Lucky Star crosses into Albany County. Jamey Fitzgibbon, Executive Vice President for Energy and Construction with BluEarth Renewables, was present during the meeting and addressed the proposed moratorium.
“As you can imagine, we’re extremely concerned with the potential for a moratorium on wind development in the county,” said Fitzgibbon. “While there are many aspects to this, I’ll limit my comments to three points.”
Fitzgibbon’s first point centered on the economic benefit wind energy development posed for Medicine Bow and Carbon County. He stated BluEarth had estimated nearly $100 million in direct benefit to the area over the years in property taxes, state wind taxes and impact assistance payments from the Industrial Siting Council.
“That’s a significant amount of revenue that would disappear if these projects do not proceed,” Fitzgibbon said.
The second point made by Fitzgibbon was the good faith measures made by BluEarth Renewables in the process of working towards a construction start for both Two Rivers and Lucky Star. When the company had previously appeared before the BOCCC for a conditional use permit to begin construction, the commissioners had requested BlueEarth Renewables obtain approval from the Bureau of Land Management before seeking a permit from the county commissioners.
“(The) Third point is that BluEarth is also a sponsor of the pronghorn study,” Fitzgibbon said. “This is a seven year study. We are in year three of that study and we see no reason to pause that study as pausing will influence the outcome. If you shutdown wind construction, there is no way to measure the impact of wind construction on the herd which was part of the fundamental purpose of the study.”
Fitzgibbon added it was the opinion of BluEarth Renewables that, due to what little construction would take place over the winter months, an emergency resolution in the form of a moratorium was unnecessary. He further stated the moratorium would bring a level of uncertainty as the company was in active negotiations for the revenue optic agreement of the project.
Other public comments centered around the economic benefit wind energy had been for the Medicine Bow area. Lucinda Schofield, President of the Council for Medicine Bow Town Council, stated if the area were to lose any impact monies from future projects it would potentially turn Medicine Bow into a ghost town.
“I’ve watched these wind farms come in, I’ve watched my neighbors prosper, I’ve watched the city make improvements where it would be more applicable for people to come and live there. The streets are fixed up, we’ve got sewers and drains fixed up,” said Bill Bailey, who owns 40 percent of Two Rivers Ranch. “From the ag side, we’ve had two years of drought up there. It’s tough. When I came up here calf prices were $1,240, last year they were $790, this year they’ve gone up to $835. I came up here as a working rancher. It’s tough to make those payments, especially with the 40 percent reduction in the cow herds. We have to reduce our cow numbers because of the drought. We were at a 40 percent drought. We ran out of water in the river (on) July 7. We went to a great expense to put pivots in there to bring up our feed quality and to make it a better cow operation. With this drought that’s gone on and the number of cows that we’ve had to reduce, this wind income would just really help our ranch.”
Justin George, owner of JB’s Stop N Shop, also commented on the economic benefit Medicine Bow had seen from ongoing wind energy projects.
“This is the only economic stimulus I’ve seen in that side of the county in 40 plus years since they cut the coal mines down. And the uranium. My dad worked at both, so we lived through that. Over the past three years, my business has seen a 74 percent increase in gross profits. This is no small feat over here,” said George. “On that note, I reinvested $100,000 into upgrading my fuel delivery system, my safety systems, knowing that that continued stimulus was going to be there. And now we’re talking about maybe not. So, (that) constitutes a huge loss for me. Especially based on the ambiguous language of the migratory disruption. All the language in the report from Wyoming Game and Fish says “it appears to be, ‘it could be’, meaning it’s theoretical. It’s not scientifically proven. I think that’s a large leap to take on somebody’s scientific guess.”
Following the public comments, Johnson explained the BOCCC was not “trying to kill wind energy” in the area or hamper economic development. He clarified the county commissioners were only looking at the moratorium because they had been informed of the study by the WGFD.
“There is more than one economy in that corner of the county. There’s agriculture, there’s also tourism and a huge part of that is your Game and Fish and your pronghorn hunting which the Shirley Basin is one of the biggest areas in the state of Wyoming for that,” said Commissioner Sue Jones. “It’s a delicate and fine line we’re all walking here.”
The proposed moratorium ultimately failed with Johnson and Jones voting in favor while commissioners Byron Barkhurst, John Espy and Travis Moore voted against.
The next meeting of the Board of Carbon County Commissioners will be at 9 a.m. on December 21 at the Carbon Building – Courthouse Annex in Rawlins.
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