Energy milestone: Wind project moves forward
When Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project site in Carbon County on Oct. 9, he not only met President Obama’s goal of authorizing 10,000 megawatts of renewable power on public lands, he approved the proposal to build America’s largest commercial wind farm.
“Tapping the vast renewable energy resources on our nation’s public lands will create jobs while supporting a clean energy future,” said Salazar. “Wyoming has some of the best wind energy resources in the world, and there’s no doubt that this project has the potential to be a landmark example for the nation.”
Power Company of Wyoming, LLC (PCW) began looking at developing a wind energy project in two different areas in Carbon County on the Overland Trail Ranch, which is owned and operated by The Overland Trail Cattle Company LLC.
“PCW is looking to develop a wind project to capture the very best wind resources,” explains Power Company of Wyoming, LLC Director of Communications Kara Choquette. “The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has ranked winds across the ranch at class six to seven.”
NREL is an organization dedicated to advancing renewable energy, and they rate the wind across the country on a scale from one to seven, with class seven representing the best winds.
“The process started in 2006,” she adds, “and it started by getting permits. The land is checkerboard land that is managed through leases and allotments, so we filed wind testing and monitoring applications to verify that it would be a great place to put a wind farm.”
On confirming the quality of the location, Choquette adds that the company filed a right of way application for wind energy development in 2008, and since then, BLM has been conducting environmental assessments on the potential impacts.
“All of the environmental assessment, knowledge, research and understanding culminates in the record of decision,” she says. “It is a significant milestone that says we can put a wind energy project on the land.”
On Oct. 9, Salazar visited Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne to sign the record of decision for the project.
“It is exciting that Secretary Salazar came to Wyoming to sign the record of decision,” comments Choquette. “Still, there are more environmental assessments that will continue as we look at siting the particular wind turbines.”
Each analysis conducted will tie to the overall record of decision, and Choquette mentions that the environmental impact statement process is comprehensive.
“It has been over 4.5 years, and there is further analysis that will be conducted,” she says. “The next big thing that we are pursuing is a permit from the state of Wyoming.”
While Carbon County Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for the project, an additional permit is required from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Industrial Siting Division. PCW plans to apply for the permit later this year.
“After we have the permitting and final engineering, the first stage of construction could begin as soon as next year,” Choquette explains. “That would involve building the internal road and support facilities.”
Because Overland Trail Ranch aligns with the Union Pacific Railroad line, PCW will be delivering the major components of the turbines to the ranch via rail and utilizing roads internal to the ranch for delivery to sites.
“We will minimize the use of county roads and local traffic hassle because everything will be delivered to the site and trucked internally,” she says, noting that the strategy will reduce impacts.
The scope of the project will bring a number of positive benefits to Carbon County, as well as the state of Wyoming.
“The construction schedule is five seasons long,” explains Choquette. “The project is going to be a big employer. We are looking at 114 full time positions for the operation and maintenance phase.”
For the jobs, she adds that Laramie County Community College’s wind turbine technician training program, as well as Carbon County’s higher education training programs will help local people to secure the jobs.
“We are looking at working to train local people for the jobs,” she says. “PCW will be the third largest private employer in the county, in terms of bringing good jobs in that will also bring people back to the county.”
Additional benefits will also be present in the form of property taxes, and Choquette mentions that wind energy is taxed in three ways.
“Property taxes will be a huge and dependable tax base that the county will be able to count on for years to come,” she says.
A BLM press release states that the complex could generate between $291 and $437 million in annual property taxes to Carbon County over 20 years.
PCW estimates that this project will contribute $232 million in sales and use taxes to Carbon County; and an estimated $149 million to the state of Wyoming and to Carbon County over 20 years for electricity generation tax.
At the same time the project is being completed and wind energy is harnessed, Choquette mentions that Overland Trail Cattle Company will continue to operate.
“It is a working cattle operation and will continue to be so,” comments Choquette. “Wind energy is very compatible with agriculture and ranching, and the operation will continue without change.”
Choquette mentions, “This is a great location with great wind.”
“There’s no doubt that this project has the potential to be a landmark project for the U.S. and the entire world,” adds Salazar.
Visit powercompanyofwyoming.com for more information. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project
The proposed Chokecherry and Sierra Madre project consists of two sites encompassing up to 1,000 wind turbines on approximately 219,707 acres of land. The project will generate approximately 2,500 megawatts, according to the Power Company of Wyoming website.
Power Company of Wyoming adds, “The project’s long-term surface disturbance will be less than 2,000 acres of a 320,000-acre ranch owned and operated by an affiliate company. With the potential to generate approximately 2,500 megawatts of clean energy, the project will ensure a reliable, cost-effective supply of renewable electricity that’s unmatched in the West.”