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Two decades later, Two Elk back to square one

Two decades later, Two Elk back to square one

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Two Elk

The site of the now-defunct Two Elk Energy Park is pictured March 26, 2013, near Wright. The plant was proposed in 1996. It’s developer, Michael Ruffatto, faces sentencing Jan. 31 after admitting to fraud.

Two decades after proposing a power plant near Wright, Two Elk Generation Partners is back to square one - with only a federal investigation and $207,775 in unpaid taxes to show for its toil. 

PacifiCorp terminated its interconnection agreement with Two Elk in October after the company failed to show it had the financial capacity to build a plant. The decision effectively sends the proposed facility to the back of PacifiCorp’s line of prospective projects.

The Campbell County Attorney's Office, after encountering several delays, is moving forward with plans to auction off Two Elk's property as compensation for unpaid property taxes. Two Elk has called the failure to pay an "oversight."

And a federal investigation into potential misuse of $10 million in stimulus funds remains outstanding.

Yet the company has signaled it intends to continue with the project.

The state Industrial Siting Council voted last year to deny Two Elk's ninth request for a permit extension. It marked the first time in the council's 40-year history it had denied such a request.

The vote put Two Elk out of compliance with its state permit. And so, on Nov. 2, the Department of Environmental Quality sent the company a letter giving Two Elk until April 15 to comply with the state's regulations.

"Before we can revoke their permit, we have to provide an opportunity to correct the failure," said Luke Esch, the DEQ’s industrial siting division administrator.

The process of regaining compliance is akin to filing a new application, he said. The company will need to submit updated plans reflecting any modifications to the proposed facility, which has been touted as a natural gas, biomass and coal plant at various junctures over the years. New socioeconomic data will need to be filed to document the plant's potential impact on surrounding communities. And a hearing on the company's application must be held.

On Dec. 15, Two Elk sent DEQ a letter informing regulators it still intended to pursue the plant and would reapply.

Two Elk officials did not respond to multiple Star-Tribune requests for comment.

But the company still faces serious questions over its tax status that may leave its permit application moot.

Carol Seeger, deputy Campbell County attorney, said Two Elk has not paid its past due property taxes from the latter half of 2013 and all of 2014. The company has not been in contact with local officials, she said.

The county intends to move forward with an auction of the company's 360-acre property. But the parcel must be appraised first, Seeger said. She said she had been promised repeatedly since October that an appraisal is forthcoming, but that the local assessor had yet to complete an evaluation.

"I voiced my unhappiness with my appraiser. I don’t want to lose my credibility with Two Elk and the council," she said. "The money is owed and I have to do things to collect it."

Two Elk was first proposed in 1996 as a facility that would burn waste coal from the nearby Black Thunder Mine. Twenty years later a concrete pad remains the lone piece of physical evidence pointing to Two Elk's aspirations. The lack of work has prompted problems for the proposed plant in the past. In 2005 and 2007, the facility's air quality permit was briefly suspended due to a lack of progress.

The plant has received high profile support. Brad Enzi, son of U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, is a vice president of North American Power Group, Two Elk's parent firm, and has repeatedly represented the company in its public dealings with the state.

But the plant’s woes have attracted increasing criticism from Wyoming officials in recent years, who have lambasted the repeated delays and unfulfilled promises.

The transmission agreement with PacifiCorp had been one of the few positive signs for the plant. The agreement was reinstated in 2015 after being suspended in 2012. However, the new deal required Two Elk to prove its financial capability by October 1.

“The interconnection agreement for this project has been terminated due to a failure by the interconnection customer to meet the agreed upon milestones of the agreement,” said David Eskelsen, a PacifiCorp spokesman.

Esch, the industrial siting council administrator, said the plant’s tax woes would likely need to be resolved as part of its application to the state.

Pointing to the Industrial Siting Council’s vote, he said, “I don’t think it would be wise to submit that information without being in compliance.”

Follow energy reporter Benjamin Storrow on Twitter @bstorrow


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