CASPER — Amid a lull in new efforts to harness Wyoming's powerful winds, several projects approved in recent years have since been completed.
The Wyoming Industrial Siting Council has greenlit 10 planned wind farms over the last five years, excluding expansions: four in 2018, four in 2019, one in 2021 and another earlier this year. Half are at least partly operational. The rest have yet to install any turbines.
State regulators will consider the latest proposal, for the Natrona County-approved Anticline Wind Project north of Casper, on Wednesday and Thursday.
Between 2019 and 2021, Wyoming doubled its wind capacity — from 1,589 megawatts to 3,178 megawatts — and rose from a capacity ranking of No. 17 to No. 14 among U.S. states, according to a June report by researchers at the University of Wyoming.
It's an increase comparable, on windy enough days, to building another coal-fired power plant the size of Wheatland's Laramie River Station, the second-biggest coal plant in the state.
Collectively, wind farms already proposed in Wyoming would nearly triple the state's capacity — nearly equaling the most "aggressive" scenario the UW report considered. Its authors found that building another 6,000 megawatts of wind capacity would support close to 1,600 long-term jobs, inject $1.2 billion into the state economy during construction and then contribute an estimated $210 million per year, including $89 million in government revenue.
And if some turbine manufacturing occurred in Wyoming, those numbers could rise even higher.
"I think it looks good for the next five years," said Christelle Khalaf, faculty fellow at the UW Center for Business and Economic Analysis and an administrator at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the authors of the report. "I think that we are going to reach these aggressive scenarios, which is going to translate into these robust economic impacts for the state. I'm less sure about what's ahead beyond those five years."
The report identified the extra time (often amounting to added years) required to permit wind projects on federal land, which encompasses nearly half of the state, as a major obstacle — and a possible reason installed wind capacity is lower in Wyoming than in many other wind-rich states.
"Federal land might be creating an issue for Wyoming in terms of expanding or deploying wind energy," Khalaf said. "But I think community acceptance plays a role, for reasons that are understandable."
Wind might fare better, she added, if the economic benefits of renewable energy development more closely matched those offered by extractive industries.
When it comes to wind, "Wyoming has a lot of potential," Khalaf said. "There's a lot of room to grow."
Roughly 2,250 megawatts of not-yet-installed wind have been approved since 2018 by the Industrial Siting Council, per the UW report — nearly equal to the maximum output of the Jim Bridger Power Plant before air quality regulations capped the coal plant's allowable generation.
That total doesn't include up to 100 megawatts from the planned second stage of Laramie County's Roundhouse Wind facility (one of the wind farms implicated in the recent, unauthorized deaths of golden eagles). Or the 175-megawatt Natrona County project still awaiting an Industrial Siting hearing.
Even counting those, however, the capacity of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project eclipses every other project in the state's pipeline — combined.
The approximately 3,000-megawatt capacity of the Carbon County wind farm is "half of what we're expecting," Khalaf said. "It would be half of the economic impact. So that definitely plays a huge role in having the state sort of experience all these economic and fiscal impacts."
That capacity is also higher than any individual wind farm operating in the U.S., and higher than any existing power plant in Wyoming.
If Chokecherry and Sierra Madre were already operational, it would vault Wyoming from No. 14 in the country in wind capacity to No. 6, according to the end-of-2021 rankings compiled by the American Clean Power Association and cited in the UW report.
In reality, the project has made slow but substantial progress since receiving its Industrial Siting permit eight years ago.
Its developer, Power Company of Wyoming, has secured every major approval needed to install hundreds of turbines between 2025 and 2028 and then transport the electricity to customers.
"It's been a long journey, but always moving toward that positive conclusion of getting the permits, getting the rights of way in place, getting the authorizations we need, getting construction underway," said Kara Choquette, Power Company of Wyoming's communications director.
The focus now, Choquette said, is on finishing roads within the more than 300-square-mile project site and clearing the closer to 2.5 square miles of land that will actually hold turbines.
The Cedar Springs, Ekola Flats and TB Flats projects were all completed by the end of 2020 in partnership with PacifiCorp, the parent company of Wyoming's largest electric utility. Combined, they added well over 1,000 megawatts of wind to the Wyoming grid, driving the state's recent upsurge.
PacifiCorp issued another request for proposals in 2020 and announced the following summer that it had yielded six shortlisted wind farms, totaling 1,641 megawatts, in Wyoming.
"Negotiations with individual developers have been proceeding since then," David Eskelsen, a company spokesman, said in an emailed statement.
But he noted that shortlisting doesn't guarantee every project will be built. Innergex Renewable Energy, the developer behind eastern Wyoming's Boswell Springs project, announced in August that it had signed a long-term power purchase agreement with PacifiCorp, just over a year after being selected for the six-project shortlist.
PacifiCorp's most recent request for proposals seeks 1,345 megawatts of wind and solar that can be operational by the end of 2027, if not sooner.
"The number of projects that could be located in Wyoming will depend on responses to the RFP," Eskelsen said, "which are due Feb. 14, 2023."
Of the five more recently permitted wind projects that haven't started siting turbines, four have notified the state of construction delays since this time last year.
Rock Creek Wind, the lone exception, has not announced any changes to the planned start date of 2024 that it presented to the Industrial Siting Council in March.
Innergex pushed road and foundation work at Boswell Springs to 2023 and turbine installation to 2024, citing inflation and supply chain issues.
Both Boswell Springs and the Uinta County Wind Project received Industrial Siting Council approval in 2018.
But the latter, which did not make PacifiCorp's most recent shortlist, is trying again to land a contract. It's not expected to begin construction until the fourth quarter of 2024, assuming this round is successful.
Federal permitting delays, meanwhile, have become an obstacle for the Two Rivers and Lucky Star wind farms. The projects were originally scheduled to come online before 2021 and 2024, respectively, but developer BluEarth renewables later postponed those construction targets. Work on Two Rivers is scheduled to begin in the spring.
And the Rail Tie Wind Project, proposed for Albany County, is now on track to start construction in the spring and be fully operational by the end of 2024, slightly later than planned.
The wind farm's developer, ConnectGen, needed more time than it anticipated to finalize key permits. State and county officials signed off last year.
The holdout ended up being the Western Area Power Administration, which finalized its environmental review on July 18. (The design will still have to pass a safety assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration.)
"We thought we would have record of a decision in hand by the end of 2021, and it ended up being, of course, middle-2022," said Amanda MacDonald, a project manager for ConnectGen. "There wasn't any particular reason for that. It's just, these federal approval processes tend to take a long time."