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Chokecherry Sierra Madre

A bulldozer sits near the end of a road under construction at the Chokecherry Sierra Madre wind project near Rawlins. The Power Company of Wyoming is focused on building infrastructure to service the planned wind farm, which is expected to be the state's largest.

A request to extend the construction schedule of Wyoming’s largest wind farm project to 2026 received approval July 2 at a public hearing held by the Carbon County Commission.

Power Company of Wyoming LLC submitted a request to amend the construction schedule of its Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project as it works to align the project’s schedule with myriad federal, state and county permits and environmental requirements.

The approved schedule change extended the construction period from eight to 11 years. When completed, the wind farm south of Rawlins is expected to provide 2,500 to 3,000 megawatts of energy, doubling the state’s wind energy production. A transmission line will then funnel energy to California consumers.

The county public hearing was just one more step in a decade-long process to bring the project closer to fruition.

“It’s not unusual to request extensions or permits,” said Kara Choquette, communications director of the Power Company of Wyoming. “Meeting all the tough rules and regulations at a county, state and federal level has been very difficult. But it also ensures protection of the resources. Wyoming is very good at making sure energy development comes with environmental conservation.”

The original 2014 permit for the wind farm issued by Wyoming’s Industrial Siting Division, a branch of the Department of Environmental Quality, required the project’s leader to inform the division of any scheduling changes. In its letter sent to the division in January, the company said it had completed 49 turbine pads and 60 miles of needed road for the wind farm, but needed to amend the schedule to account for market demands, workforce schedules and material availability too.

“PCW’s proposed changes to the construction schedule are due to prioritizing the completion of these infrastructure elements for the entire Project, Phase I and II, before moving to installation of the turbine and transmission components and balance of plant,” Vice President Roxane Perruso wrote in the letter to the state.

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Director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Todd Parfait approved the change the following month. Carbon County Commission hosted the recent public hearing to finalize the approval on the county-level.

Tax debate continues

According to the American Wind Energy Association’s first quarter market report, 12 percent of the nation’s wind power capacity under construction took place in Wyoming, with 1,488 megawatts of wind energy cumulatively installed.

The perennial debate around wind energy taxes in Wyoming came up once again in the state’s Joint Revenue Committee hearing on Monday. The state currently has a $1 per megawatt hour tax, and some legislators and renewable energy experts have said the tax has deterred wind development in the state.

“Wind is a different beast and if you look at us trying to tax wind, Wyoming is pretty unique in that respect, it has curtailed the development,” said Jonathan Naughton, a University of Wyoming professor and director of the Wind Energy Research Center. Even the possibility of taxes down the road can inhibit the growth of renewable energy in the state, he said.

He admits there will likely be no single energy replacement for coal. But wind energy can be part of Wyoming’s efforts to diversify its economy, he said.

“It’s not just electricity that wind is going to transform, it’s Wyoming’s economy,” Naughton said. “If ... we have a source of abundant renewable energy, yes we should export it, but how can we lure energy intensive industries into Wyoming too?”

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