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Solar Power

John Coffman, a land steward for The Nature Conservancy, stands in front of the Red Canyon Ranch’s large solar panels while a worker’s pet sheep grazes in 2014 near Lander. The first large solar farm in Wyoming is moving through the permitting process in the state's southwest corner. 

Wyoming’s first large solar farm may come to Green River soon. The proposed 80-megawatt farm moved forward Tuesday with the release of an environmental assessment of the project by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Sweetwater Solar Energy Project would be the first utility-scale solar project on Bureau of Land Management land in the state. It would lie about 10 miles outside of Green River on both sides of State Highway 372.

If some other proposals don’t beat it to the operation, Sweetwater will be the first large, utility-scale solar farm providing power in the Cowboy State. Some smaller solar projects on the western side of the state are operated by utility Lower Valley Energy and the city of Jackson.

The 80-megawatt farm would have the capacity to power about 17,000 homes and cover about one square mile of public land. During a six-month construction phase, the project would create about 150 jobs. Tax revenue from the farm is estimated at $421,200 for Sweetwater County and about $600,000 for the state, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Wyoming relies predominately on coal for its power needs given the low cost of shipping Wyoming coal to in-state power plants. Coal mining is a key economic driver in the state, but the industry has been struggling in recent years as low natural gas prices drove the construction of more gas-fired power in the U.S.

The coal sector has also been hurt by growing renewable power in the U.S. Wyoming’s renewable footprint is almost completely wind power right now. The state is home to some of the best high wind areas in the country and wind power remains cheaper to develop than solar. The introduction of a wind tax appeared to slow new wind development in the state in recent years, but an approaching sunset of federal tax credits for wind is spurring new development of large wind farms.

Sweetwater Solar LLC, a subsidiary of South Korean corporate conglomerate Hanwha Group, filed a power purchase agreement with Wyoming’s largest utility, Rocky Mountain Power, in April of 2016 with hopes to begin construction as early as last year. The utility also signed a purchase agreement with another solar provider, Sage Solar, last year. Operations dates for Sage were confidential.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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