Green energy controversy

Public comment held for solar project


TORRINGTON – It is hard to predict what may happen in the future with green energy in Goshen County, but being fully educated on both sides of a topic is always beneficial. In light of the continued conversation and debates surrounding the Goshen Solar Project, the Goshen County Commissioners held a public meeting on Monday, Dec. 4 so the public could voice their concerns and opinions on the project. 

“[During the] zoning and planning commission meeting where they presented the draft [for the solar regulations], it was evident that a lot of people had ideas, opinions and concerns,” Chairman Michael McNamee said. “So, I decided that we as commissioners [would provide] an opportunity to allow the public a setting to voice those things.”

On Monday, many members of the community crowded the Rendezvous Center to listen to the debate and take the opportunity to voice their opinions on the project. 

The Goshen Solar Project is a large solar energy facility that is planned to be located approximately 10 miles southwest of Yoder. The ownership of Goshen Solar, LLC is divided equally between Cowboy Energy, LLC and Greenvolt Power Renewables, LLC. 

The project can be accessed by traveling southwest on Highway 152 for approximately eight and a half miles to the point the route turns into County Road 44. Then continue west on County Road 44 for approximately six miles to the intersection of County Road 15. Finally, travel south on County Road 15 for approximately 0.75 miles to the northwest boundary of the project.

The solar facility will be built on 1,227 acres of privately leased pasture ground owned by Nancy Otto. Nancy previously told the Telegram the facility is expected to generate up to 165 megawatts of electricity. 

According to the projections for the major Goshen County tax revenues for the Goshen Solar Project, provided in May, the materials and equipment for the project are expected to cost $154,692,147. At 5.25% sales and use tax rate, it will bring in $8,121,338 in a one-time sales and use tax revenue. Out of that revenue, $4,336,794 will go to the state of Wyoming, $1,616,146 to the Goshen County government, $1,811,058 to the city of Torrington, $129,941 to the city of Torrington, $129,941 to Lingle, $121,820 to LaGrange, $64,971 to Fort Laramie and $40,607 to Yoder. 

In addition, throughout the project’s 30-year economic life, it is expected to bring in a total amount of $35,003,712 in property tax revenue. Out of that total revenue, the Goshen County government will receive a $5,985,635 share, special districts will receive a $2,940,312 share and education will receive a $26,077,766 share. During its first year, $1,944,651 is expected to be collected in property tax revenue, with the Goshen County government receiving a $332,535 share, special districts receiving $163,351 and education receiving $1,448,765. 

Feelings about the project have been very mixed. 

A major concern for folks is the potential impact of severe weather. As Goshen County has been known to have high winds, large hail and occasional tornadoes, these people are concerned about the panels being damaged on a regular basis or even destroyed completely. 

Ellen Otto said the panels will be equipped with a tilting feature set up with a remote control. This would allow workers to tilt the panels to reduce any potential damage from severe weather events. In the case the panels were destroyed, she said it is in their contract with the state the company will clean up the site. 

Several topics like electromagnetic fields, heat islands and eminent domain were discussed by both sides. The side against the project argued that these issues were significant issues, while the other argued that they were of little to no concern. 

There were also concerns about two companies involved in this project, Cowboy Energy and Greenvolt. One speaker voiced her concerns that when she looked up the companies LLC’s they were hard or even impossible to track down. This could potentially be a problem if something goes wrong with the facility or if a disaster happens because it could make it hard to track down the responsible party.

Nancy explained while Greenvolt is a Poland company, Cowboy Energy is a Wyoming company located in Sheridan. The project supervisor was even a University of Wyoming graduate. 

Ellen said in addition, the companies also have a bond of $9.9 million with the state to help ensure the company properly decommissions the site. According to the bond agreement, the bond will not be released until the property owner signs off saying the site was decommissioned appropriately. 

Amy Smith warned that her experience with the pipelines has taught her that even the best plans and contracts can go wrong. While hopefully everything goes right in this case, it can depend on the company and the circumstances. 

Several people are concerned about what happens if the project fails and/or the companies go bankrupt. In this case, they are concerned the decommissioning of the site would fall into the hands of the county.

Ellen is confident this would not be the case since the bond is in place.

Another major topic that was debated was private property rights. Many who spoke up in support of the project said the owner should have the right to do what they want with their property. They said that refusing this right, it is unfairly restricting a landowner’s ability to add additional income to their ranch. 

However, the other side explained while they support private property rights, they don’t support a decision would negatively affect the people around the property. They said this project could potentially impact surrounding pastures, land values and raise electricity prices. 

“We’ve got a lot of corrupt people in a lot of places,” Joseph Evans said.  “But I am a firm believer in the freedom in the Constitution that says the right to own property and do with it as you choose. I would suggest before anybody really goes one way or the other to check where the information of your research came from.”

Scott Prusia told the audience about the social-economic impact study that was done as part of the project’s 600-page application. According to Prusia, the application explained the project could have a significant financial impact on the county. 

He also said there will be 280 jobs created during construction, and then 10 full-time jobs and about 36 maintenance jobs created. 

For more information, Nancy said the application can be found at the Goshen County Library.

Prior to this meeting, a misunderstanding was made about the application process. 

“We had the understanding that we as commissioners had the last decision on the project,” McNamee said.

So, even though the county had not finalized its regulations concerning solar energy by the time the hearing for the state siting council was held, it was believed the county would have the final say in the approval.

“The company who has leased land from the Otto family had a hearing with the sitting council here in Torrington, and after that hearing was over, they gave the permit to construct the project,” Vicki Zimmer, chairman of the planning and zoning commission, said. “According to Eric Boyer, our county attorney, since we didn’t have our regulations in place and approved, the sitting council had the right to go ahead and get the permit.”

Essentially this means the project can move forward, however, there is some debate on the legality of the situation. 

McNamee explained there are a few discrepancies within the application, particularly one concerning road and bridge. In this instance, it was stated the road and bridge was contacted to discuss any potential road issues concerning the project, and there was none.

“Any part of that application that indicates that there is an agreement between the industrial siting council and any members of the application, and the Goshen County Road and Bridge is false and inaccurate,” McNamee said. “I can tell you from the contacts with Val at the road and bridge and from the monthly meetings, there has not been any contact or information provided.”

While the project may come with financial aid from the state that goes into the fire departments and road and bridge, the county does not have the manpower or equipment as implied. 

This meeting was not an official meeting of the Goshen County Commissioners. No motions or other decisions were made. This hearing was just for informational purposes and to allow residents to voice their opinions.