A Wyoming state board on Monday again approved delaying construction of a 17-years-in-the-making coal-fired generation project near Wright despite some members’ concerns that the project has been allowed to drag on for too long.
Members of the state Industrial Siting Council, an appointed board which oversees large industrial projects, approved an amended permit for the $800 million Two Elk coal-fired power plant. Under terms of the new deal, the company will begin construction in January.
Representatives of the company appeared before the board Monday after applying in September to change an on-file construction schedule for the $750 million to $800 million project. A previous schedule showed that the company would begin construction in earnest in April 2012, but the financing needed to break ground has yet to take hold.
Two Elk Vice President Brad Enzi told council members that Enron’s 2001 collapse and the 2008 financial downturn were among the biggest reasons the project — first proposed in 1996 — had yet to secure financing. The company has also struggled to simultaneously seek funding and fight litigation — such as a Sierra Club objection to the project’s air permit. That objection has since been dismissed.
Enzi said he’s confident things will turn for the better in the next nine months.
The market is “solidifying today,” he said. “There’s been a lot more clarity in the last six months.”
Despite Enzi’s confidence, some members of the council still had concerns about the project’s “nonaction,” as one council member put it.
“I think everybody’s frustrated with the amount of time it’s taken this project to come to fruition,” council member Richard O’Gara said. “I have nothing this morning that tells me it’s going to happen.”
O’Gara and fellow board members Sandy Shuptrine and Jim Miller asked several questions about the project’s feasibility and whether the documents the state has on file are actually accurate.
Two Elk attorney Mary Throne also serves as a state representative. She pointed out that no communities to be affected by the plant — planned about 15 miles southeast of Wright — have offered negative testimony about the project’s eventual effects. But Miller said he thought if more communities felt free to comment, more would have.
“The lack of input from parties is partly due to the fact that this was not advertised as a meeting to receive input,” Miller said. “There wasn’t anything in any advertisements to bring forth any other information.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t any non-Two Elk testimony at Monday’s meeting. Parties representing the town of Newcastle and the Wyoming Building and Construction Trades Council each offered support for the project.
“I think we’ve all been waiting with baited breath for the project,” Newcastle City Engineer Bob Hartley said. “We just want to see the project go.”
John Corra is a recently appointed council member and former head of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. At one point Corra asked the council’s attorney whether he could approve the schedule change but add conditions, hinting at whether Jan. 1 was being brought forward as a firm start date.
“The reason why that’s important to me is that it’s now April,” he said. “That’s only nine months away. I think about the 17 years and how it drags on, but on the other hand, Mr. Enzi says he’s nine months away from starting.”
Council staff eventually recommended against adding conditions to the motion.
Council chairman Shawn Warner eventually told members of the council that the group was meeting to approve or reject the schedule change, not make judgment on the project. He said the council should disregard other talk because the members simply needed to decide whether extending the schedule would make negative impacts on the surrounding area.
“I cannot come up with good cause to support and not approve the schedule,” he said.
The council voted 4-2 to approve the schedule change. Miller and Shuptrine opposed the decision.
Two Elk, a subsidiary of Colorado-based North American Power Group, plans to build a 300-megawatt facility. The station would be fueled by waste coal from area mines that is deemed not suitable for export. Two Elk has at different times also considered adding biomass, wind and natural gas-fired generation projects to its on-site portfolio.
Enzi said his project is worthy of support.
“We’re trying to be good stewards of the resources we have at home in Wyoming in the best and most responsible way,” he said.