Wind lease approved
The Wyoming State Land Board voted Jan. 21 to reverse its Nov. 5 decision, ultimately approving a proposed wind energy lease for the company ConnectGen.
ConnectGen’s project, called the Rail Tie Project, spans 26,000 acres near Tie Siding, including over 4,800 acres on Wyoming state land.
The 500-megawatt project is expected to pay around $20 million to the state of Wyoming in wind energy leases over the project’s 35-year lifespan, and ConnectGen predicts the project will generate around $176 million in new tax revenue, as well as create jobs and economic activity on top of lease payments.
In November 2020, the Wyoming State Land Board declined ConnectGen’s application to lease 4,800 acres, even though the director of the Office of State Lands and Investments recommended the board approve the lease, given “no substantive impairments” to grazing and agricultural activities be identified.
Several Albany County residents supported the project south of Laramie, while others were worried the wind energy development would compromise viewsheds, private property value and tourism.
Following the decision, ConnectGen shared the company anticipated continuing the Rail Tie Project on private lands.
The November decision was rescinded after new information on the benefits to the state from the Rail Tie Project were identified by the state auditor, according to Deputy Director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, Jason Crowder.
However, before voting to approve the ConnectGen lease, the board amended the lease, requiring the company to begin constructing the wind farm within six years, rather than 12 years.
State Superintendent and Wyoming State Board of Land Commissions Member Jillian Balow shared she learned continuing the project on private lands could significantly impair the project, and she feared local communities wouldn’t see much needed revenue and economic activity.
“We’re seeking long-term growth, optimum and sustainable revenue,” she said. “The greatest benefit we have before us for this land at this time is, in fact, executing this lease.”
Amanda McDonald, project manager for the Rail Tie Project, shared, “We are pleased the Board of Land Commissioners voted to approve the Rail Tie Wind Project lease, which will increase school funding through wind lease payments to the state of Wyoming expected to total $20 million over the life of the project.”
“While not directly related to trust obligations, this project brings the added benefits of generating significant state and local tax revenues, providing jobs, sustaining area ranches and contributing to the diversification of Wyoming’s economy,” noted Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna in a letter to the board.
Before ConnectGen can commence construction on the Rail Tie Project, permit applications to Albany County and the state’s Industrial Siting Council must be submitted. Also, a federal environmental review process, following the National Environmental Protection Act, must be completed.
Gov. Mark Gordon, who serves as the board chair, requested the Office of State Lands and Investment research and compile information on wind energy leasing and development in Wyoming to help the board understand the process at the conclusion of the state land board meeting.
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.