After three years of evaluation, the Western Area Power Administration has approved a request to connect the Rail Tie Wind Project with its transmission system.
The decision marks one of the many permissions required for ConnectGen to move forward with building the wind farm, which will be located near Tie Siding off Highway 287.
Slated to begin operations in 2023, the $500 million project will generate 504 megawatts of energy, according to the ConnectGen website.
It’s estimated to create $130 million in tax revenue and at least 20 permanent jobs. Because just under a quarter of the project will be on state land, lease payments will benefit Wyoming schools and other groups, according to a ConnectGen press release.
The WAPA record of decision was the last portion of the entity’s decision making process required by the National Environmental Policy Act, which included the creation of an environmental impact statement and a public input process.
Throughout the approval process for the ConnectGen project, property owners near the proposed wind farm area have raised concerns that the turbines will disrupt wildlife and the natural beauty of the area, in addition to causing safety concerns.
The group has filed an appeal of Albany County’s decision to give ConnectGen the necessary permissions to move forward with the project.
Some environmental impacts are outlined in the WAPA record of decision as points of concern, with visual impacts to Ames Monument National Historic Landmark and surrounding historical sites listed as a priority.
Another concern is that the turbines are predicted to kill high numbers of golden and bald eagles that live in the area.
While this is the end of the WAPA review process for the wind farm, there are still environmental and cultural resources considerations being made by other entities, said WAPA Environmental Protection Specialist Mark Wieringa.
“NEPA is not a ‘stop the project’ kind of process,” Wieringa said. “It’s a process to identify what the environmental and human impacts will be … and use them to inform an agency’s decision.”
ConnectGen will need an incidental take permit for golden eagles, which requires a separate NEPA process unaffiliated with WAPA.
A group also is working with about 40 property owners, nongovernmental organizations, tribes and other community stakeholders to consider the impact of the wind farm on historical sites, Wieringa said.
The process, mandated under the National Historic Preservation Act, will include plans to carry out actions to mitigate the impacts of the wind farm on historical sites.
This could include better signage and trails around the Ames Monument or similar measures, and will be decided in the coming months, Wierenga said. There could be grants available to complete some of this work.
Aside from environmental and cultural considerations, WAPA studies the feasibility, facilities and system impacts of adding the wind project to the transmission system, which is akin to connecting many garden hoses together, Wieringa said.
WAPA will not have any interaction with the wind project aside from operating a switchyard that controls how the power from the wind farm is connected to the transmission line, Wieringa said.
“Connecting more renewable energy projects to the grid is a critical step in modernizing America’s energy infrastructure and meeting our nation’s growing energy needs,” WAPA CEO Tracey LeBeau said in a press release. “Our technical analyses found available capacity on WAPA’s system and the comprehensive analysis in the (Environmental Impact Survey) provided environmental impact information, both of which informed the interconnection record of decision.”
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