The Laramie City Council is slated to decide whether to back a wind energy development planned for a large swath of land in Albany County next month, but it heard an earful of opposition to the project during a work session Tuesday.
ConnectGen, a renewable energy development company based out of Houston, Texas, is in the permitting stages of constructing a 504-megawatt wind farm stretching across state and private land on both sides of U.S. Highway 287 just south of Laramie. Between 85 and 150 turbines, depending on the yet-to-be determined turbine model, could be located on 26,000 acres near Tie Siding.
In addition to the open space and abundance of wind, Project Manager Amanda MacDonald said there were a number of other considerations that narrowed developers to the area in question. Those include the ability to avoid environmental concerns and existing transmission lines that would make it significantly easier to move forward.
ConnectGen, in fact, is not the first corporation to desire the same area for wind energy development, MacDonald pointed out. In 2010, Laramie City Council backed a proposed project that would have placed 200 wind turbines near Tie Siding.
Council members at the time voted in support of the Hermosa West Wind Energy project, a development proposed by Shell WindEnergy Inc. that would have seen construction of up to 200 wind turbine generators with a combined total generating capacity of up to 300 megawatts located near the towns of Hermosa and Tie Siding. That project did not move forward, MacDonald said, because the Shell corporation moved away from wind energy.
The ConnectGen project represents a unique economic development opportunity at a time of extraordinary need, Outreach Manager Deby Forry said. The corporation expects the project to contribute a total of $178.5 million in state and county tax revenues over the project lifetime, with the $14.6 projected for the construction phase equal to 80% of all sales and use taxes distributed to Albany County in 2018. The construction phase is projected to create 113 construction jobs and 23 permanent jobs during operation.
The project is an idea fit for a community the size of Laramie.
“There are not very many projects in Laramie that can support these types of revenue streams that don’t require a large amount of infrastructure injection,” Forry said. “At the end of day, after the construction is done, you have between 23 and 30 permanent full-time jobs, plus spouses coming in, the amount of revenue and sales dollars attached, you don’t have to have hundreds of people needing housing and infrastructure to support a business that can generate tax revenues this project does.”
Some council members asked probing questions of the project’s representatives, but none expressed outright support or opposition. The public comment period, however, struck a different tone.
Local lawyer Mitch Edwards, whose law firm is representing 60 landowners, pointed to council’s vote in April to delay voting to throw its support behind the project to July 21, arguing the work session didn’t have proper notice. This, he said, stifled the public’s ability to provide feedback to the council.
“What is the big hurry? Why push this agenda item now? The fact there seems to be a rush and seems quite suspicious,” Edwards said. “It leaves the impression, whether it’s true or not, that the council is trying to ramrod this past the public.”
While Edwards continued on to address other points, he expressed disappointment his comments were cut off at the 3-minute mark.
“The conclusion of my talking proves my point of the inability to address this appropriately,” Edwards said.
Tie Siding resident Carol Wiles said ConnectGen had not been forthcoming about the facts about wind energy, citing concerns about health effects and negative impacts on services to rural areas. She also said the company did not have the experience in operational wind energy it claimed and looks to use Wyoming as its “test for wind.” As such, Wiles urged the council not to throw its weight behind the project.
“Your support is influential — they wouldn’t be seeking it otherwise,” she said.
Gayle Wilson said the state and county had nothing positive to gain from the project and warned letting it go forward would open the door to a flood of harmful development.
“I understand this is a big, green carrot being dangled in front of the city and county,” she said. “It seems like a windfall coming at us at the right time, but taking this money comes on the backs of citizens.”