The Albany County Board of Commissioners have approved a wind energy conversion systems permit for the Rock Creek Wind Project by a 3-0 vote.
The commission had tabled the project following a public hearing Dec. 7 after commissioners asked for more time to ask questions and took the issue up again this past week.
Following a discussion about fire suppression, impacts to wildlife and the use of aircraft detection lighting systems, project lead developer Chase Martson and attorney Greg Weisz offered to attach a condition to the permit limiting construction from Nov. 15-April 30 in areas considered to be crucial winter range for big game.
The language of the condition would mirror a similar rule imposed by the Carbon County Board of Commissioners in December.
“Invenergy is absolutely committed to addressing concerns that have been raised by a government agency, even if there’s no jurisdiction on the part of the agency to do so,” Weisz said during the commission’s Tuesday meeting.
Commissioners Sue Ibarra and Pete Gosar both expressed concern that Invenergy hadn’t addressed recommendations made by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. An October letter to the county from habitat protection supervisor Amanda Losch included 20 recommendations intended to minimize impacts to big game, raptors, bats, aquatic species and habitat.
Amy Watrud, senior associate for environmental compliance and strategy for Invenergy, said the company is working with the department and following its guidelines.
“I would say we are on course to have all these recommendations from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department resolved,” she said.
Albany County’s regulations defer consideration of wildlife and cultural resource impacts to the state’s Industrial Siting Council for developments large enough to require ISC permission, such as the Rock Creek Wind Project.
Watrud said Invenergy had already moved turbines away from Cooper Creek at the department’s recommendation to lessen the impact to big game.
The project area includes two bald eagle nests and two golden eagle nests, one of which would be located 1.2 miles from a turbine. Watrud said four years of surveys have given developers a good picture of golden eagle movement.
“We feel we can make an informed decision about what that buffer might be,” she said.
Regarding the use of aircraft detection lighting systems, county regulations require their use unless prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Commissioner Pete Gosar asked if Invenergy would consider promising to seek a variance for any turbine that doesn’t receive FAA permission, while Weisz argued that it’s “not appropriate” for the commission to make such a request.
“Your own regulations give the FAA primacy in this issue,” Weisz said. “(Invenergy) has every intention of installing ADLS. If they have to come back and ask for a variance from this commission, it could jeopardize the entire project.”
Marston said Invenergy didn’t plan to install any fire suppression in the turbines except what comes standard from the manufacturer.
“It’s what’s used across the country and with most Wyoming projects, and we feel that is adequate,” he said.
Gosar acknowledged that additional voluntary conditions could impact a project’s bottom line, although they might be supported by locals.
“Good neighbors make for successful projects,” he said.
Commissioner Heber Richardson said asking for additional considerations was unfair.
“If we have a problem with our regulations, I think we need to deal with it there,” he said. “The applicant is at a distinct disadvantage at this moment in the process.”
The 590-megawatt Rock Creek Wind Project 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.
The Office of State Lands and Investments is scheduled to consider the project during its February meeting, as six to eight turbines would sit on state land.
The project area is located in a remote part of the county with just four private landowners involved. Invenergy’s goal is to transfer ownership of the project to PacifiCorp upon completion. Construction could start as soon as 2023, with operation targeted for the end of 2024.
During the public comment period, Albany County resident Anne Brande urged the commission to “take a stand” and deny additional wind projects because of their impact on wildlife and natural resources.
“Wind turbines are a significant long-term threat to local populations of big game and avian life, as well as migration that occurs in a population through Albany and Carbon counties,” she said. “You need to think of the long-term impacts to Albany County.”
Korry Lewis, an attorney for the Wheatland Irrigation District, said income from the project would be used to replace infrastructure that dates back to 1883, including 120 miles of canals. The district owns the Ringsby Ranch, which is within the project area.
“Proceeds will go toward updating infrastructure that’s over 100 years old, which will benefit Wyoming for many, many generations to come,” she said.