Wyoming wind farm construction lags behind permitting – Casper Star

February 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Not long ago, it wasn’t unusual for a hundred or more wind
turbines to sprout into the Wyoming sky each year.

But while the state’s wind generates a bigger chunk of Wyoming
electricity than ever before, the number of built turbines has
lagged ever slower behind the number of permits issued by state
regulators.

At the end of 2011, only slightly more than half of turbines
given the go-ahead by the state had been built. Financial concerns,
tax uncertainty, legal and environmental issues,  and transmission
line constraints have slowed construction, said Todd Parfitt,
administrator of the state’s Industrial Siting Division.

It seems that 2008 to 2010 was a golden age for Wyoming wind
energy. Of 1,488 wind turbines permitted by the state since the
first state-permitted wind farm got an OK in 1995, only 825 have
been built, and three out of four built were erected between 2008
and 2010.

Since then, “Things have since kind of slowed down a little
bit,” Parfitt said. 

Issues hinder
projects

The Industrial Siting Council, a state board that must sign off
on large commercial projects in Wyoming, approved permits for 266
new turbines in 2009 and 353 turbines in 2010, but only an
additional 62 turbines in 2011.

No developer with state turbine permits in hand has abandoned a
project, Parfitt said. But a number of wind farms are on hold, have
yet to complete additional construction phases or are still dealing
with a range of issues.

“Transmission is a key to a lot of this, having the new
transmission capabilities,” he said. “Obviously sage grouse core
areas is a big part of this as well, as well as the tax structure,
having some certainty there.”

The tax structure is certainly unclear, or perhaps less
friendly. In January, Wyoming began imposing a $1 per megawatt hour
tax on wind energy production and a sales and use tax on equipment
used in wind energy projects after state legislators nixed an
alternate plan to continue a tax exemption for such projects and
impose a 2 percent impact fee.

Gov. Matt Mead and some energy companies have said they fear the
heavier tax burden will discourage wind energy projects in the
state. Meanwhile, federal policymakers are now fighting over
whether to extend a key federal tax credit.

And while the quasi-governmental Wyoming Infrastructure
Authority is advocating for new transmission line development in
the state, Wyoming officials are zealously protecting areas in the
state critical to the survival of the endangered sage grouse.

Turbines on
hold

Third Planet Windpower’s Reno Junction project just west of
Wright is one of the projects with permits but no turbines. The
state Industrial Siting Council approved the 100-turbine project in
2010, but is still waiting for more information from the San Ramon,
Calif.-based company.

“… They need to make some demonstration about their financial
capability,” said Parfitt, whose division is part of the Wyoming
Department of Environmental Quality.

The company didn’t answer a Star-Tribune request for comment,
but lists the project as under development on its website.

Novelution Wind’s Chugwater Flats project northeast of Chugwater
also hasn’t moved forward. The project, the first of its kind in
Platte County, received state approval in 2010 for the first phase
of its construction, totaling 143 towers. On its website, the
Chugwater-based company said it planned to build 151 additional
turbines at the site in a second construction phase.

Novelution didn’t answer a Star-Tribune request for comment, but
Parfitt said to his knowledge the company’s financial capability
wasn’t an issue, although he wasn’t sure of the specifics. When the
company came before the division, the final two phases of the
three-phase project weren’t far enough along, Parfitt said.

“So we just went forward with the first phase,” he said. “That
one just hasn’t moved forward.”

Wasatch Wind’s Pioneer Park Wind Energy Project was the only
wind project approved by the council last year. The Park City,
Utah-based company got both state and county approval for its
62-turbine project split between two nearby sites south of
Glenrock, but is currently fighting local opposition in state
courts.

A group of opponents known as the Northern Laramie Range
Alliance lost a battle in a Wyoming District Court, but said it
would appeal the Industrial Siting Council’s approval of the
project’s permit to the state Supreme Court.

The alliance claims the company has yet to prove it has met the
Industrial Siting Council’s requirement that Wasatch show it is
financially capable of building, running and eventually tearing
down the wind farm.

Wasatch Wind officials say they’re optimistic about their plan
to build the permitted turbines.

“Our plan has always been to complete both projects by the end
of 2012 and we are still on track,” Wasatch spokeswoman Michelle
Stevens said.

Turbine permits to
double

Still, Wyoming wind energy in terms of megawatts produced is now
the second highest generator of electricity in the state –
although still well behind coal, which produces three-quarters of
the state’s megawatt production, according to data from the U.S.
Energy Information Administration.

“The majority of Wyoming’s power generation comes from coal, but
a significant and increasing amount is generated from wind and
natural gas, along with a consistent and established hydropower
generation,” said Jim Stafford of the Wyoming State Geological
Survey, in a recently released report cataloging the state’s
electrical generation resources.

Wyoming wind farms now have the capacity to generate 16 percent
of electricity produced in the state, according to the EIA figures.
That’s far above hydropower and natural gas-powered generation,
which can generate 3 percent each, and oil’s 1 percent.

Wyoming wind turbines — those actually constructed — shot from
a total capacity of 213 megawatts in 2007 to 825 megawatts in 2010,
a nearly four-fold boost.

While turbine construction hasn’t kept up with state permitting,
Parfitt of the Industrial Siting Division said he expects requests
for permits over the next two years to allow for another 1,500
turbines in the state.

That total includes Denver-based Anschutz Corp.’s Chokecherry
and Sierra Madre project south of Rawlins in Carbon County.

That project would add 2,500 megawatts of production to the
state’s electricity portfolio, and 1,000 new white turbines
spinning in the Wyoming wind.

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