Siting commission approves Uinta Co. wind farm

Kayne Pyatt, Herald Reporter
Posted 10/26/18

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Siting commission approves Uinta Co. wind farm


EVANSTON — The final hearing for the Uinta Wind Energy, LLC, a subsidiary of Invenergy, conducted by the Wyoming Industrial Siting Commission was held at the Roundhouse on Thursday, Oct. 4. Invenergy is the company that has proposed to build a 47-turbine wind energy farm in Uinta County.

Hearing officer Sean Chambers said three exhibits were used as evidence at the hearing: 1) application evidence, 2) consideration of the evidence and a vote, and 3) testimony on the impact assistance bonds would be heard.

He also said the Wyoming Industrial Siting Division is not contesting the application and all parties agreed that the wind farm will not impose environmental or health problems to residents and that Invenergy has the financial resources needed to complete the project.

Chambers said reading of the evidence would be waived as the commission members had all the information in advance.  He then turned the meeting over to Invenergy.

Attorney for Invenergy Greg Weisz, of Pence and MacMillan of Cheyenne, concurred with all stipulations and gave his opening statements. He introduced Krista Mann and Josh Framel who would be testifying and said two other witnesses were in the audience if they needed to be called. Wildlife biologist Barbara Stone would be available to provide answers if needed but could not attend this meeting.

Mann said she is the director of new development in the western United States for Invenergy. She has been involved in renewable energy development since 2003.  

Mann was responsible for identifying the site area and also for reaching out to local planners. In 2017, an RFP was received from PacifiCorp, but southwest Wyoming was taken off the list due to other issues.  She said she’d hoped someone from PacifiCorp would attend this meeting.  

“The need for clean renewable energy is evident in that customers are asking for more clean energy,” Mann testified.

The site Invenergy has identified is northwest of the existing Wyoming Wind Energy turbines. This project is different from the other two wind farms in the area as they have not yet reached an agreement with PacifiCorp or Rocky Mountain Power to buy the energy generated. However, Invenergy officials said they are confident that if needed, they can sell the power to large scale customers, commercial or industrial companies.  

In both 2013 and 2015, Mann approached Wyoming Game and Fish regarding the site and was given the go-ahead with planning. In 2016 and 2017, Uinta County was approached and the project received approval from the county commission. 

Mann said Invenergy has completed 125 projects with 900-plus employees, and raised $30 billion in capital while producing 20,000 megawatts. They work in the fields of solar, wind, natural gas and advanced energy storage. They partner with major utilities and hundreds of corporations to provide energy sources.  

The Uinta County project will provide 161 megawatts of electricity with 47 wind turbines. Invenergy will be responsible for road access, any necessary utility lines and any other related expenses. The site is exclusively on private and state lands. It will cover 30,000 acres and is located northeast of Evanston, up the Whitney Canyon road.

The projected start date of construction will be August of 2019. They plan to be ready for installation by August of 2020. Mann said the project will provide 140 jobs — with 70 of those being long-term  — and will bring in $137.7 million in excise tax, $5.4 million in sales and use tax, and $23.5 million in property tax.   

Mann went on to explain that letters of support were substantial from local entities, environmental surveys and permits are completed and they will get building permits from the county as required. Invenergy will continue to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and with Wyoming Game and Fish regarding environmental and wildlife issues. Their study included a habitat avian survey and a sage grouse core area study.

They will use the Whitney Canyon road in order to avoid the sage grouse leks (breeding ground) area.  Wyoming Game and Fish approved the project and didn’t make any further recommendations. A monitoring plan will be in place that continues to assess the impact on wildlife and they will adjust accordingly.

A large area is cleared around the wind turbine site, typically one to two acres in order to protect wildlife. Hunting in the area is left up to the landowners. Contractors may put up a fence during construction for the safety of wildlife and others. Any changes in the design and construction would only occur if geothermal conditions warrant it, if archeological resources are affected, artifacts are discovered or if they find any environmental factors they weren’t aware of when conducting their study of the area.

Exhibit 5 in the commissioners’ packet provided the information on the financial solvency and the history of success and financial responsibility of Invenergy. They have $30 billion in capital toward the project and $3 billion in equity. Their stockholder equity is $1.6 billion and the company has an in-house finance team that continually raises funds.

Weisz then called Framel, Invenergy’s junior manager of development, to testify. Framel has been with the company for four years. His major responsibility is to gain permits, and he took the lead on working with state and federal agencies and local city officials. He confirmed and reiterated what Mann had testified. He said no one had objected to the project and added that transportation of construction and equipment was the responsibility of the contractor.

He said he had studied and determined that water sources and waste management would be no problem, and also that a road agreement had been reached with WYDOT and the county and that Invenergy would be responsible for maintaining the county road. They will be using County Road 103 and the Whitney Canyon road predominantly and will make agreements with all parties involved for maintenance and any necessary repairs.

Framel also testified that the socio-economic issue of housing and availability of workers had been studied and they saw no problems in those areas. It was mentioned that workers could be drawn from Sweetwater County and from Utah as well as from Uinta County. He said the project overall will have a global impact and can meet Wyoming’s statutory requirements. Framel also worked with the county planning department regarding all possible issues, including emergency and medical. 

Next to testify was Joseph Hammond, principal engineer with the Jacobs firm, a global environmental group that works with the permitting process for energy development. He has a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and he managed the development of the permit application for Invenergy with the Wyoming Industrial Siting Commission. He has worked on 18 similar projects and primarily prepared this particular application.

Hammond assisted with the public involvement, provided information to area newspapers, and letters to different agencies and property owners. The Jacobs engineering team in Denver worked on the engineering plan. No variances were requested and a Wyoming professional engineer approved the plan.

Hammond assisted Invenergy on all aspects of the application process and he responded to comments from 26 state agencies, which is part of Exhibit 6. Hammond stated that no Wyoming agency expressed any opposition to the project. He spoke to the question of adequate housing and determined that there are 550 rooms in the area consisting of hotel, RV sites and encompassing all of Uinta County.  

Hammond testified that a cumulative impact analysis was complete and the entire area of impact was studied and no problems were found. He also confirmed the beneficial economic impact to the county through employment and tax benefits and that the overall construction impact will be minor and primarily short-term during the summer months.  

“Based upon my knowledge,” Hammond said, “this project complies with all state and federal requirements and has significant benefits to all.”

The first item on the agenda would be to consider the permit condition, second look at the five items in Statute 13, and finally the overall vote on the permit.

The commission then unanimously voted to approve the permit exhibits 1 through 20. 

Concerning item agenda number two, a motion was made to include County Road 103 to be Invenergy’s responsibility to monitor and maintain in addition to working with WYDOT.  The representatives from Invenergy accepted the addition and the motion was approved.

A motion was then made and seconded to accept Invenergy’s application with the new addition included and grant the permit. The motion carried and the permit was granted.

Chapman then asked for the Uinta County representatives to testify regarding the impact assistance payments.

Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson asked Gary Welling of Uinta County Planning and Zoning Commission to provide testimony.  

In his testimony, Welling concurred with all of the preceding testimony regarding the socio-economic and environmental impact and said he felt that the study was accurate. That impact would be primarily on public works and emergency services. Department heads had given a projected impact statement so Welling figured the cost of the impact would average about $75 per resident. The Town of Bear River did not respond to requests for projections.  

Howieson said all agencies know that the amount of the impact assistance to be provided is under the maximum requirements but feel it is a fair and reasonable amount for the city and county. Over the course of construction of the wind project, the impact assistance amount will be $384,544, and it will be split equally between the city and the county. This will be allocated monthly and will amount to a little more than $10,000 per month to each entity.

The Industrial Siting Commission then gave a unanimous approval to the impact assistance amount and the payment schedule. The chairman was given the authority to sign the declaration order and the meeting was adjourned.