A conversion system permit application for the Rock Creek Wind Project was approved by the Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission this week, sending the project to the Board of County Commissioners.
A public hearing before the commission is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Dec. 7.
Three planning commission members voted in favor of the permit, with Maura Hanning abstaining from the vote, saying she wanted more information about cumulative impacts to wildlife in the area.
Chicago-based Invenergy is proposing the 590-megawatt project, which calls for up to 129 turbines on mostly private land about 25 miles north of Laramie between Interstate 80 and Rock River.
Most of the project area, about 37,000 acres, would be located in Albany County with about 6,000 acres in Carbon County.
Chase Marston, the project's lead developer, told the Planning and Zoning Commission that up to 119 turbines would be located in Albany County, depending on the turbine model chosen and finalized locations. Final siting of turbines depends on engineering and environmental studies still being conducted.
"We do take their feedback into consideration very seriously," he said about local input.
The project site, which is adjacent to the McFadden Ridge Wind Farm, will involve few landowners and little existing infrastructure in a very rural area. The newest turbine models are larger and need more room on the landscape.
"We wanted to be able to have plenty of space where we would have as little impact on the existing properties as we can," Marston said.
The nearby Foote Creek Wind Farm, currently being repowered, is one of the oldest in the state.
"This area is no stranger to being able to harness the natural resource that is there," he said.
As county permitting continues, Invenergy also will bring the proposal before the state Industrial Siting Commission. Six to eight turbines would sit on state land, and Invenergy is seeking permission from the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments for that part of the project. The goal is to begin construction in 2023 and put the project into operation in 2024.
Invenergy also built the Ekola Flats and TB Flats projects north of Medicine Bow, which are now owned by PacifiCorp. Similarly, Invenergy is negotiating to transfer ownership of the Rock Creek project to PacifiCorp.
"We're hopeful that will be finalized in the near future," Marston said.
He said the project would have a life cycle of about 25 years. At that point, it might be decommissioned or the existing turbines could be replaced with new ones.
County planner David Gertsch said the project would need an updated traffic study prior to construction that shows impacts to county roads, including Cooper Cove Road and Dutton Creek Road. Haul routes also could include Interstate 80, U.S. Highway 30 and Wyoming Highway 13.
County regulations require projects to use aircraft detection lighting systems whenever possible, which turn the lights on atop towers only when an aircraft is in the vicinity. The Federal Aviation Administration makes the final determination about whether such systems can be used, and only after final turbine locations have decided, which happens late in the planning process.
Landowner Steve Booth said he is looking forward to working with Invenergy.
"We feel this will be a great benefit with minimal impact to our ranching operations," he said.
Booth said his ranch has been approached by three other energy companies over the years wanting to develop wind on the property, but in each case he and his family didn't feel those projects would respect the land and their ranching operation. But with Invenergy, they decided to move forward.
"They understand that this land is not just our livelihood, but our heritage," he said. "We're very pleased to be part of this project."
Commission member Maura Hanning said she didn't feel comfortable approving the project because she wanted to know more about how it would impact wildlife, especially given the number of other wind projects in the vicinity.
"I'm very for wind projects, but I think our county has to think about the cumulative impacts for all of them, and if we're going to have any wildlife corridors that are intact," she said.