Carbon County officials have approved a 1,000-turbine wind farm, which now goes to a state board for review.
The county’s three commissioners heard several hours of comments from members of the public on Tuesday before unanimously approving a conditional use permit for the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind energy project, which would be the largest wind farm in the country.
The 2,000-3,000-megawatt project’s developer, Power Co. Of Wyoming, must now bring the massive wind farm before the Industrial Siting Council, a state board that reviews large industrial projects.
Power Co. of Wyoming expects to start construction on the project in 2013. The project already has all necessary federal permits in hand. The developer said Wednesday it will file a permit with the Industrial Siting Council in November.
Jerry Paxton, the Carbon County Commission’s vice-chairman, said more than 50 people attended for the commission’s discussion and vote on the project.
Leo Chapman, a fellow commissioner, noted the comments before the commission both supported and opposed the project, although more of those who spoke approved of it.
He noted opposition included concerns the project would harm wildlife and hinder the views across the county’s vistas.
But Chapman credited the developer, a subsidiary of Denver-based Anschutz Corp., for its work to study birds in the project area and its willingness to answer any questions thrown its way. Chapman said such work and openness — things sometimes not shown by other wind project developers in the county — helped the commissioners to approve the project.
“Power Co. of Wyoming has enthusiastically tried to comply with as much information as we’ve tried to ask them, good and bad,” he said. “They’ve given us the good and the ugly.”
In phone interviews with the Star-Tribune, Paxton and Chapman said they’re not overly happy about wind turbines dotting the horizon and they’re ideologically opposed to wind energy. But neither could turn down a project that met the rules for approval and will bring jobs and money to the county.
Commission Chairman Terry Weickum didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Paxton described renewable energy projects such as wind farms as an unstoppable federal government-driven freight train barreling down the tracks.
The situation gives the county commissioners two options, he said: either get run over, or put your hand on the switch to direct the train.
“We’ve chosen to make sure it gets on the right track,” he said, by pushing to make sure the county will get impact fees and a cut of revenue from such projects.
Both commissioners highlighted what the project would mean to the county.
Power Co. of Wyoming representatives say the county would get between $445 million and $562 million through various taxes over the 20-year life of the project, according to a Rawlins Daily Times report of the Tuesday meeting.
The project would also require 300 to 400 employees during the first two year’s of construction, 1,000 to 1,200 jobs over the following three years and 114 long-term jobs, the newspaper noted.
Those numbers are big in Carbon County, called home by about 16,000 people, and huge to a county government reliant on sagging natural gas prices.
“As county commissioners we’ve been very interested in diversifying our revenue stream. It seems like we’ve been in a rough situation in terms of revenue,” Paxton said. “Every time we’ve had a budget session, we end up cutting millions of dollars, and there are things that get neglected and it’s unfortunate.”