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Wyoming wind farm on track to clear another regulatory hurdle
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Wyoming wind farm on track to clear another regulatory hurdle

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Chokecherry Sierra Madre

The Power Company of Wyoming plans to build 1,000 turbines at the Chokecherry Sierra Madre wind farm near Rawlins. The Bureau of Land Management published an environmental assessment Monday, advancing what's expected to be the state's largest wind farm one step closer to completion.   

In the summer of 2007, an independent energy company installed a meteorological tower to test the wind conditions on a ranch in Carbon County. The results revealed what most residents living in and around Rawlins already knew: The site boasted ferocious wind speeds, making it an ideal spot to build one of the country’s most ambitious wind farms.

Now, over a decade later, Power Company of Wyoming LLC has moved one step closer to clearing a final environmental requirement needed to bring the massive 3,000 megawatt-Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project to fruition. The project will include up to 1,000 wind turbines.

About 400 of those wind turbines received preliminary approval from the Bureau of Land Management after the federal agency released the third environmental assessment of the wind farm.

Though the draft environmental assessment has yet to clear a public comment period, the federal agency’s concluded the wind farm “will have no new significant impacts on the human environment,” beyond what is outlined in the 2012 environmental impact statement.

The release of the environmental review marks a considerable step in a long line of regulatory hurdles the independent developer of the project has undertaken.

The assessment considers the impact the energy development could have on the land, water and wildlife, ensuring each part of the project meets the requirements outlined in the environmental impact statement.

“This project is a great example of the importance of partnerships between the BLM, the State of Wyoming, our local communities, external groups, cooperating agencies, and the project proponent, Power Company of Wyoming,” Dennis Carpenter, the Bureau of Land Management field manager in Rawlins, said in a statement. “The project fulfills many of the agency’s priorities, including sustainably developing energy resources, modernizing our infrastructure, increasing revenues and creating jobs in local communities while balancing protections for other resources in the project area.”

The announcement allows the company to continue forging ahead with construction. Power Company of Wyoming first began applying for state and federal permissions in 2008.

“This will complete the BLM federal environmental analysis of the project, so that’s exciting,” said Kara Choquette, communications director for Power Company of Wyoming. “... The BLM leaves no stone unturned. Everything that could be looked at, has been looked at.”

In addition to analyzing the potential impacts of constructing the group of wind turbines in Carbon County, the environmental assessment also explored infrastructure plans such as turbine pads, electrical lines, roads and towers.

The wind farm south of Rawlins is expected to provide about 2,500 to 3,000 megawatts of energy, doubling the state’s wind energy production. A transmission line will then funnel energy to consumers in the western grid.

This phase of development “would have no significant effects beyond those already analyzed and disclosed in the 2012 Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project Final Environmental Impact Statement,” Carpenter, the Rawlins’ field manager, wrote in the Bureau of Land Management’s conclusions.

After the Bureau of Land Management finished an environmental impact statement for the wind farm in 2012, the regulatory body undertook additional environmental assessment for specific phases of the project tiered to the comprehensive statement.

Construction on the approved components of the wind farm began in September 2016.

“We appreciate the BLM’s consistent review and thoroughness in preparing these documents and working on this project for this long,” Choquette said.

The federal agency will accept public comments until Nov. 4.

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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