ISC hears public comment on Goshen Solar

Lack of communication frustrates community

Jess Oaks
Posted 2/21/24

Last week the Industrial Siting Council (ISC) invited public comment during their quarterly meeting held virtually on February 16, at 10 a.m. Public was invited to join the meeting from the Goshen County Commissioners Chambers.

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ISC hears public comment on Goshen Solar

Lack of communication frustrates community


TORRINGTON – Last week the Industrial Siting Council (ISC) invited public comment during their quarterly meeting held virtually on February 16, at 10 a.m. Public was invited to join the meeting from the Goshen County Commissioners Chambers. 

In a recent public notice published in the Torrington Telegram, the committee noted business was to be conducted on Google Meet and participants could virtually raise their hands to speak during the comment portion of the meeting. 

A handful of community members and professionals waited in the chambers for the opportunity to speak their concerns to the ISC on the new solar project, slatted for construction near Yoder. 

The meeting was called to order near 10 a.m. The ISC immediately entertained a motion for excusive session in another meeting room, directly following roll call, approval of the agenda and approval of the minutes from the last meeting, November 28, 2023.

“At this point in time, since we are moving into executive session, the council will be receiving legal advice and therefore the council themselves will be excusing themselves to go into their own executive session in another portal, virtually,” Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Administrator, Jenny Staebem, said. “Then they will return after legal advice and vote on an issue,” she continued. 

The motion was voted on and approved and a short wait ensured for the community to voice their concerns.

Once the executive session ended, the committee moved on to the agenda number six, the Rail Tie Wind Project, in Albany County, regarding order of special conditions #29.

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to make a motion with regard to item number six, Rail Tie Wind Project discussion. It has been brought to the council’s attention that there are some concerns, and we are not taking a position one way or the other but there are some concerns expressed about the process and procedure that was followed last meeting,” Staebem said. “I’d like to move to table this until second quarter ISC meeting. So, my motion is to table this until the next quarterly meeting.” 

The motion was seconded and voted on and the motion carried. 

The meeting continued through quarterly reports, program update, jurisdictional threshold updates and the election of officers before rolling on to public comment. 

Chris Toalson, ISC Senior Economic Analyst provided program updates for the council. 

“The updates that Mr. Toalson is about to present to you is in response to the councils requests, at their previous meetings, to explain and address implications and a couple other items that were brought up for concerns in the previous fourth-quarter meeting,” Staebem said.

Toalson explained the notice process for current projects stating certified notices were sent to local government officials and municipalities, fire districts, schools, weed and pest departments and irrigation departments, to name a few, according to the WY Stat § 35-12-110 a i, as well as landowners as defined by the state statues. 

“The wind and solar project fulfilled this requirement by sending certified mail to the communities of Torrington, Yoder, Chugwater, Wheatland, and Goshen and Platte counties,” Toalson explained. “Letters were once again, address to the mayors of each town and city and the county commissioner chairmen for the counties. We sent letters to the joint power boards for each community and the project landowners as described by applicant. As stated previously, all letters were sent via certified mail. To reiterate, the joint power board include but are not limited to school boards, conservation districts, fire districts, weed and pest districts and irrigation districts,” he continued.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, comments were restricted to two minutes, after a brief discussion was held on the guidelines to comment. 

“Another thing I want to mention, just so everybody understands, we are going to be receiving comments, but the council is only going to be receiving we’re not going to be interacting in terms of a discission on those,” ISC Chairman, Dusty Spomer said.

“I have been asked by senator Steinmetz, representative Scott Smith and representative Allen Slagle to read the following letter for the record,” John Ellis began. 

Steinmetz, Smith and Slagle were unable to attend the public comment meeting due to the legislative session however, Ellis presented ISC with the group’s comments and questions.

“Goshen Solar Project concern number one, notification was confusing and inconsistent for this reason, we are very sure you have a room full of Goshen County residents and elected officials participating in the meeting today,” Allen read. “Number two, local control is being over-run by companies who understand the process and navigate it with speed leaving volunteer planning council members and part-time elected officials at a severe disadvantage, monetarily, procedurally, and timewise.”

The letter continued on to mention deficiencies in the application siting road it permits and other state and federally required permits. 

“For the reasons above, it would be prudent for the county commission and the ISC to require documentation that all necessary permits for the projects have been issued. Documentation shall include a copy of the complete application’s final approval and any other information the county commissioners deemed necessary for review before construction can commence,’” Ellis read.

“I had a letter ready to present but giving the limitations on time, I am going to paraphrase what I have written down here,” Chairman, Michael McNamee of the Goshen County Commissioners said. “Goshen County has found themselves in a position of feeling behind in the process. We really are looking for help from the ISC. We would like to, with the foundation of state statute that we believe allows us to ask for this, we would like to recommend that Goshen County to be allowed to require an independent application from the project manager in order to move forward with anything beyond what they have done to this point. That independent application would allow Goshen County to protect our citizens, our landowners, and our county as a whole,” McNamee said. 

Goshen County is primarily an agriculture community and McNamee stressed to ISC, Goshen County has never made a living in the energy sector, and it lacks the knowledge and experience necessary to function in the sector. 

Rick Teeters spoke next to the ISC, representing the volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services in Goshen County. 

“I’ve been in contact with administrator Staebem for the last ten days or so and I believe we have, or the council has, a hole in administration of how we view who the impact partners are and how we approach a project like this,” Teeters said. “The volunteer fire service everywhere in Wyoming, you going to find wherever you go with any of these projects, it’s our small fire protections districts and those volunteers are going to be the people who respond when something happens in or near one of these projects and we were not notified,” Teeters stressed. “Administrator Staebem indicated in the meeting it was because we are not of a municipality that we don’t have the infrastructure to support housing and those kinds of issues and my point to the council is, when you push 911, we’re who you’re going to get. The small fire protection districts that surround this project were not notified of the project or any of its impact and are not privy to any of the impact funding. The fire protection district that I am in would be the Veteran Fire District, about three miles to the north of this project but if there is a medical emergency it’s going to be my people.”

Teeters went on to express he feels there will be a doubled response impact to emergency calls, like what was seen during the oil boom in 2010-2012 and he recommended the council reevaluate who will be impacted by projects.

“We need to be at the table not left out,” Teeters stated as he closed his comments. 

“I went to the library and studied the application, and it left me confused,” Bess Carnahan said. “I am neither for nor against the project I simply want it done correctly. My question is, who are we dealing with? Goshen Solar? Are they the ones who signed the lease with the landowner? Are they the ones who made the application? As far as I can see right now with a morphing of different companies into what we have now with Goshen Solar, I don’t think the application as it’s submitted, is valid.

Many community members mumbled in agreement.  

“In reviewing the signing application, it refers to Greenvolt Powers Renewables LLC. I haven’t been able to find a recording of a Greenvolt Powers Renewables LLC,” Diane Foster commented. “It says that they have a 50% interest in Goshen Solar during the development phase and a 100% interest thereafter. What happens if that company changes hands,” Foster continued. “Because with the information we have, that company has been purchased by another investment company and this is prior to construction even beginning. My concern is with the citizens of this county, if they come in and a disaster happens this company walks away so who’s going to get stuck with the clean-up bill? Goshen County,” Foster asked. “What protection does the county have? I would like to request that you put a hold on this permit until all of these things get ironed out and a lot of these questions get answered and the commissioners are allowed to do their duties by the Wyoming State Statues.

Shortly before accepting virtual comment during the public portion of the meeting, another community member stepped forward with comment regarding the solar project. 

“I feel that the DEQ (Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality), in failing to notify some of the people such as the fire warden and some of those people, that the DEQ gave you folks an incomplete recommendation to approve this permit,” Ellis said. 

Anne Brande, Executive Director of Albany County Conservancy, has attended a couple of ISC proceedings. 

“I want to point out some concerns that members of my conservancy have that we are noticing in the state. I have listened to all these things about transparency and clear communication and mailing certified letters and that’s all wonderful stuff. What I have noticed in the past four years that I’ve been following these processes at the county level, at the state level and now at the federal level, is that it’s fractured, it’s fragmented,” Brande expressed. 

Brande went on to explain Albany County has had the same concerns regarding the Rail Tie Project. 

“That seems to be the problem, is that things are happening too fast and it’s coming from all directions,” Brande said. “It seems like we’re juggling, and all of the balls are in the air.”

“I just wanted to suggest just as food for thought, the whole rational of formal meetings like this is to provide due process to all the people involved,” Eric Boyer, Goshen County Attorney said. “My point is, I beg everyone to just consider what due process entails. Due process requires that in governmental situation there be an appropriate notice given to the folks who are affected.”

The last public comment made during the meeting was from Vice Chairman for the Goshen County Commissioners and Yoder Fire District Chief, Justin Burkart. 

Burkart provided a short introduction before addressing his concerns regarding the solar project. 

“I guess my spot at the table here is, discussing the notification process,” Burkart explained. “Earlier in the meeting you had discussed you had made personal phone calls to notify the correct people. I, for one, never received an email, never received a phone call either at my seat as a county commissioner or a fire chief of the Yoder Fire District and we’ve talked about the impact, and I am right in the ground zero of this and I was never notified about the impact funding or any of these meetings that were taking place. I know the Town of Yoder was notified but the Town of Yoder does not have a fire department. It is in the Yoder Fire district; two separate entities and I just feel that the process of which this happened was poorly done and quite frankly unfair to notify key individuals in the county of what’s going on there,” Burkart continued. “I feel the communication was not good.”

Burkart reiterated he had not received notice for the solar project as either a county commissioner or the Fire Chief of Yoder Fire District in closing.