Wind developers cite transmission, uncertainty as challenges in continued development
Laramie – Drawn to the state’s consistent top ranking in the U.S. in terms of wind energy resources, wind developers around the nation have kept their sights on Wyoming for the potential to construct new wind turbines and expand wind energy production.
“There’s no question that Wyoming’s wind energy will be meaningful to the nation,” said State Treasurer Mark Gordon during an Oct. 2-3 forum, titled “Wyoming’s Wind Energy Future.”
The forum brought together developers Juan Carlos Carpio Delfino of Viridis Eolia, Paul Martin of Intermountain Wind, Aron Branam of EDP Renewables and Ryan Jacobson of the Power Company of Wyoming to look at the benefits of wind energy in Wyoming, as well as the challenges that the state faces in developing its potential.
Investments in wind energy development are productive and economically beneficial for communities in both the short- and long-term, said the developers.
Delfino noted that, as development begins, not only does the tax base in communities increase, jobs are also added.
“In our case, we purchased the Medicine Bow School for our operations and maintenance center,” he said. “It’s already providing an impact to the community there.”
During construction, huge numbers of jobs are created, which, however, Martin said can result in a boom-and-bust cycle.
“If we can figure out how to have a sustained marketplace for jobs and create consistency, the industry will be able to sustain a tax base,” he said.
Jacobson added that one estimate for a construction project they are working on requires 700 employees over an eight-year construction period. After that, between 100 and 114 long-term positions will be necessary for operations.
During construction, Branam emphasizes, “There’s a trickle-down effect during construction, too. Local shops who might be used to serving 20 people could see 200 or more. For those years during construction, there are a lot of benefits to entire communities.”
“In the end, these projects are going to bring a huge amount of economic diversification and tax base to the state, as well as employment,” Delfino explained. “We’ll have employees here for the next 10 to 20 years, either floating construction employees or permanent employees.”
Further, employees will need to be skilled, he said.
“We’re going to need technicians, and many of the young people of Wyoming will have opportunities in wind,” Delfino said.
Jacobson added, “These aren’t only skilled jobs, they’re long-term, high-paying jobs. Wind energy provides a great opportunity for communities to keep younger members in the community and working.”
Martin added, “Even before construction, we need biologists, geologists, archeologists and more.”
Currently, companies have worked to find employees in Wyoming, but that isn’t always easy or possible.
“In our case, we work with local contractors when we can,” Delfino said.
To continue to expand development in the area, Delfino also noted that rail infrastructure will need to be added, as well.
Martin noted that additional services may also be available as a result of increased populations.
“For example, in Albany County, Medicine Bow didn’t have the money to repave the roads in town after they replaced a water line,” he said. “Money from sales tax from wind will help repave those roads.”
The area is also underserved in terms of police, emergency personnel and more, Martin added, which may be funded through wind energy revenues.
In addition to the benefits seen in communities across the state, Martin sees benefits for landowners in particular.
“Most of our landowners are locals, and they will obtain substantial compensation for the land disturbance,” he said. “These are life-changing amounts of money.”
He added that, since landowners are also job-creators in small communities, the additional income provides multiplied benefits.
“Landowners are excited about the opportunity to create more jobs – both ranching jobs and from other services, so there is a considerable amount of multiplication effect that comes to the state,” Martin said.
Branam added that, while not every project is constructed, landowners receive compensation for exploration prior to development.
“Those funds can help tide over ranches when beef prices are low,” he said.
While they see opportunity for Wyoming communities, Branam noted that Wyoming’s permitting process provides challenges for developers.
“At the state level, the Industrial Siting Council does a great job of laying out the permitting process,” he said. “But, we also do a second level of permitting at the county level, which doesn’t always jive with the Industrial Siting Council process.”
He emphasized that, for projects extending across county lines, the difficulty increases, which eliminates speed and efficiency.
“Anything that slows us down costs more money, which affects pricing,” Branam said. “Consistent permitting at the state and local level is important to bringing projects to fruition in a timely matter.”
Jacobson added, “Consistent policy is important to any developer.”
Federal policy is also a concern, particularly when it comes to concerns like eagles.
“There is some grey area in federal policy,” Delfino said. “That needs to be improved.”
All developers on the panel cited transmission as a concern, stating that even if the wind power was produced, there is question as to whether it could be moved out of state efficiently.
Martin explained, “When I entered the state, I was under the impression, as were other developers in the state, that there was capacity for transmission. We all learned that wasn’t the case.”
The transmission capacity had been acquired by Pacific Corp, and accelerating creation of new transmission lines was like “pushing a Mack truck,” he said.
“Pacific Corp is now developing a line for its own purposes, and they’ve worked hard to find the right paths with the least amount of impact for transmission,” Martin continued. “Trans West is essentially using the same corridors.”
Martin further noted, though, “The common knowledge among regulators is that exit points out of the state are very few in number.”
Exit points for transmission lines are defined by trying to get around preservation areas, conservation areas, visual resources, species resources and other cultural and resource concerns.
“Unless something changes dramatically, once these transmission lines are built, there isn’t space left to build another line out of the state,” Martin said. “That’s what regulators are telling us now.”
He adds, “If nothing happens, those lines will fill up, and the wind industry will die around it.”
Despite the challenges facing development, Delfino commented, “We believe there’s going to be a wind rush in Wyoming.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com