The Laramie/Albany County Environmental Advisory Committee voted Thursday evening to form a subcommittee that will analyze and suggest changes to the county’s commercial wind and solar energy siting and permitting regulations.
The environmental committee consists of seven members appointed jointly by the Laramie City Council and Albany County Board of Commissioners, with the task of analyzing and advising on environmental issues as assigned by the two elected bodies.
The Board of Commissioners decided during its March 16 meeting to enlist the environmental committee in analyzing the regulations. Chairman Pete Gosar had suggested involving the EAC in making regulation updates back in September, but his fellow commission members at the time did not support him in the idea. This time around, Sue Ibarra, who replaced Terri Jones on the commission in January, agreed with Gosar.
On March 2, the Board of Commissioners adopted updates to the county’s regulations that had been developed by the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission, a five-person board appointed by the county that oversees land-use planning and permitting.
However, Gosar and Ibarra both said during that meeting that they wanted to make more changes to the rules beyond what the Planning Commission had come up with. Thus, they’ve now sent the regulations to the EAC instead of sending them back to the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission approved its version of the regulation updates in November after being directed by the county commission to do so earlier in 2020.
Gosar, the county commission’s liaison to the EAC, told that group on Thursday that the Planning Commission “seemed to run into struggles” in making updates.
“I think there’s more to be done,” he told the group. “I’m not completely satisfied with the regulations as they sit.”
Gosar said there’s a precedent for involving the EAC in county matters, as the group assisted in developing aquifer protection documents as well.
“They led that work that has been useful for more than 20 years now,” Gosar said.
The proposed Rail Tie Wind Project sparked the county’s consideration of its wind regulations in early 2020. Energy company ConnectGen has already submitted its project application to the county, thus any changes to the county’s regulations made at this point won’t apply to Rail Tie.
“What we do right now is not going to affect that process,” County Planner David Gertsch said. “What we do would impact other projects in the future.”
Gosar said the county commissioners “have wide-sweeping authority” regarding whether to approve ConnectGen’s application.
“I don’t know that anything is a fait accompli,” he said. “I don’t know how the other commissioners feel about it. It’s a moving target depending on what the permit looks like, quite honestly.”
ConnectGen also needs permission from the state’s Industrial Siting Council. In addition, the project falls under the authority of the National Environmental Protection Act because it proposes connecting to a federal transmission line.
Gosar said he has personally replied to more than 150 emails in the last month from county residents both in support of the county’s regulations as they’re currently written and asking for additional changes, such as increased setbacks. More than 40 people weighed in about the regulations during the March 2 commission meeting.
EAC members expressed enthusiasm for taking on the assignment and said they looked forward to engaging with the public during the process.
“I’m in support of looking into these regulations and capitalizing on the input of these community groups that have the expertise,” environmental commission member MaryGrace Bedwell said.
Bedwell will join Eric Krszjzaniek and Harry Plendl on the subcommittee. The committee’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., June 3.