Depending upon who you ask, the unanimous decision by State of Wyoming regulators with the Board of Land Management to deny ConnectGen — a Houston-based independent energy company — a lease to develop a wind farm in Rail Tie came as a surprise; for some it was a muted jubilation, for others, disappointment.
“I would consider this a small victory,” said Paul Montoya, who is part of Albany County for Smart Energy Development — a coalition that fought against the wind turbines.
Their objection to the proposed wind turbine farm was based on several reasons. To begin with, the site that was proposed is part of the Laramie Range and Medicine Bow, said Montoya. It is an area that has a lot of recreational activities tied to it, including rock climbing, trail hiking and other outdoors-related opportunities.
“There a lot of history,” said Montoya. He pointed to a pyramid that was built to commemorate the completion of the Union Pacific transcontinental rail line. “At one time that was the highest site of the rail line.” Later, the tracks were moved to a lower location because train engineers found it difficult to climb that incline, he added.
There was also concern the wind turbines — which he claimed would be 675 feet high and be the tallest in the nation, would destroy the scenic views, property values and tourism.
Another objection to the wind turbines, said Montoya, is that the area is known as a “dark skies” area. Lights atop the turbines, for aircraft safety, would destroy the dark sky. According to www.darksky.org, a dark sky community is a town, city, municipality or other legally organized community that has shown exceptional dedication to the preservation of the night sky through the implementation and enforcement of a quality outdoor lighting ordinance, dark sky education and citizen support of dark skies.
In a news release shortly after the vote, Montoya stated “There are proper locations to place power generation facilities and this is not one of them.”
“There are proper locations to place power generation facilities and this is not one of them,” IMontoya stated n a news release shortly after the vote.
However, ConnectionGen while viewing this a setback, appears undeterred.
“While we are disappointed in the Board of Land Commissioner’s decision, ConnectGen remains committed to the Rail Tie Wind Project and to our private landowners,” said , Amanda MacDonald, spokesperson with ConnectGen. “Twenty percent of the proposed project area was on State land, so we will continue moving forward with the project on the private lands we have under lease.”
She noted that before the vote, the Governor and other boards members specifically emphasized that their decision on this wind lease was neither an endorsement or a disapproval of the Rail Tie Wind Project as a whole.
MacDonald pointed out the projected economic impact in Albany County had the project won approval; these included:
• Income produced by Wyoming State land is used to support public schools and other institutions.
• The proposed wind lease agreement guaranteed that ConnectGen would pay the State annual lease payments of at least $480,000 each year during the project’s operations (equivalent of more than 8 Wyoming public school teacher annual salaries)
• In total, the lease agreement would have generated approximately $20 million in wind lease payments to the State over the project life.
She pointed out that The Board of Land Commissioners had previously leased these same State land parcels to Shell Wind Energy about 10 years ago for the Hermosa Wind Project. However, Shell ultimately got out of the wind development business and stopped development of that project and others. The Board did not explain why they determined a wind lease to be appropriate 10 years ago but not today.
Neither pro nor anti
“The Albany County for Smart Energy Development isn’t against wind or solar energy,” said Montoya. “But what we would like is to work with the county commissioners.” The coalition would like the county to not allow wind turbines be constructed near monuments and recreation areas. The coalition wants the county to formulate stronger measures than already exist. Montoya recommends studying what other Wyoming counties are doing or have enacted. He pointed to Sweetwater County as an example, which has policies in place more stringent that Albany County.