The Wyoming Industrial Siting Council voted 5-1 to issue a permit to ConnectGen to build the Rail Tie Wind Project following a hearing that took place July 19-21 in Laramie.
ConnectGen now has county and state permission for the project, which would cover 26,000 acres of public and private land south of Laramie near Tie Siding.
The council attached 29 conditions to the permit, related to traffic management and emergency access, pre- and post-construction testing of groundwater wells, and setbacks for new roads, among other issues. The list is being finalized as the ISC writes up its decision.
Project manager Amanda MacDonald said conditions imposed by both the state and the county were “reasonable, thoughtful conditions” that ConnectGen is willing and able to comply with.
“(The conditions) also add additional protections for neighboring landowners. I think overall they make the project better,” she said.
Greg Weisz, an attorney with Pence and MacMillan who is representing a group of Albany County landowners, said he and his clients are disappointed with the ISC’s decision. He said the conditions were the most restrictive ever to be imposed on a wind project in Wyoming.
“The multitude of conditions plainly demonstrates that the concerns and objections raised by the objecting landowners were legitimate and quite real; those concerns are just a small part of the negative impact this project would have,” he said in an email. “It will be critical for the ISC to carefully monitor ConnectGen’s compliance with the conditions, and the objecting landowners will involve themselves in those matters to the fullest extent possible.”
Weisz said he didn’t think ConnectGen would be able to satisfy the ISC’s conditions, and he pointed out that it has yet to commit to a turbine model and size.
“While the objecting landowners respect the right of ranches to generate income from their property, the reality is that all of the benefit of the project would go to ConnectGen and the participating ranchers, while the neighboring landowners would bear almost all of the burdens,” he said.
Anne Brande, executive director of the Albany County Conservancy, which also objects to the project, said she was concerned about enforcement as well as ConnectGen’s lack of turbine specificity.
“ConnectGen said they could never commit to a final turbine before construction,” Brande said. “They totally skirted that. It’s so frustrating for everybody.”
In a statement from Albany County for Smart Energy Development, Paul Montoya said the decision was disappointing but not surprising.
“It’s sad to see that a state council set up to properly site major energy projects just rubber-stamps applications that come before them,” he said. “Most of the conditions placed on the application were generated by the applicant to reduce the large outcry from Albany County residents who voiced concern. In the end it boils down to the fact that the ISC has a goal to increase revenue for the state even in the face of destroying Wyoming’s natural resources.”
ISC member James Miller voted against the project.
ConnectGen is still awaiting publication of a final environmental impact statement and record of decision from the Western Area Power Administration, which would conclude the federal review process.
MacDonald said the final EIS is expected in October and the record of decision in early 2022. ConnectGen plans to begin construction next year.
“It’s taken a little longer than we expected when we were first starting out, but for the most part we’ve stayed on track,” MacDonald said.