Carbon Co. commissioners delay wind farm approval

By Ray K. Erku

Rawlins Times

Via Wyoming News Exchange

RAWLINS – Landowners fear revegetation of perennial grasses native to the steep hill north of U.S. Interstate 80 near Arlington will be jeopardized if PacifiCorp, a Warren Buffett-backed power company, doesn’t follow certain regulations.

Such grasses and vegetation are key foods for area livestock and wildlife.

PacifiCorp, the same company that established the Foote Creek Rim 1 wind farm near Arlington in 1995, plans to replace 68 of the area’s current turbines with just 12 units.

To do so, company representatives presented to the Carbon County Commission last week a plethora of background information, hoping it would convince the county to approve a conditional use permit.

But county officials weren’t quite convinced as they mainly questioned the six-inch reclamation plan the company currently has in store. Although original CUP stipulations made by the Bureau of Land Management required just the six inches, commissioners argued that once the new towers are installed, that little of an amount of native topsoil wedged between the underground concrete and the earth’s grade wouldn’t suffice.

According to Tim Hemstreet, PacifiCorp director of renewable energy, they have successfully reclaimed area soils and vegetation in the past, under the original six-inch requirement.

“We’ve had success with that type of reclamation depth in terms of getting grasses to grow” Hemstreet said, “using the BLM native seed mix that we employ at that site.”

Commission Chairman John Johnson, however, who’s a former Medicine Bow Conservation District representative, emphasized his skepticism over Hemstreet’s claims.

“Well, I’d certainly like you to be successful at it,” he said. “It’s very important to me.”

Hence, the county suggested that, in order to have any notion of passing a CUP with PacifiCorp, they’d have to follow state reclamation requirements, which stipulate that the reclamation depth be at least four feet underground.

This would mean the 12 turbines of Foot Creek Rim 1, which have resulted in “hundreds of millions of dollars” of investments into the state and “tens of millions of dollars” of investments into Carbon County, said Hemstreet, would likely incur added costs, which may hinder the project.

Being PacifiCorp didn’t have the potential added costs in hand, Johnson questioned if the increased costs would actually disrupt the project, which is also set to garner $14 million in projected tax revenue.

“I don’t know that it won’t,” said Hemstreet. “I just know that this project is economically challenged as it is to move ahead. And, so, if we’re adding additional cost to this project, I don’t know that this project will be economic essentially to our customers.”

Later, the commission opted to go into executive session to discuss litigation matters about the possible project.

Once back in session, a motion was made to only approve the CUP, which will likely occur at a later time, based on state reclamation statues rather than the original six-inch depth made by the BLM.