State grants Wasatch Wind site granted final extension

2014-07-15T06:08:00Z State grants Wasatch Wind site granted final extensionBy TREVOR GRAFF Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
July 15, 2014 6:08 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — The Industrial Siting Council granted Wasatch Wind a final permit extension to begin construction on the company’s long-disputed Pioneer Park wind farm near Glenrock.

The proposed development would include 46 wind turbines.

The unanimous vote to extend the permit gives the company until February 2016 to begin construction and August 2015 to prove it has a viable partner to finance the project. According to Wasatch officials, new power purchase agreement negotiations, eagle conservation permitting and former litigation has left the company needing more time to complete the process and begin construction.

Wasatch president Christine Mikell said the company is pleased with the council’s decision to push the deadline for proving financial viability from its original May 18 date. She is not worried about meeting the new deadlines for the state permit.

“We have a deadline with our (power purchase agreement), and those dates result in the same conclusion,” Mikell said. “We need to get the power in the ground by 2016 and get a financial partner to do it. So it lines up.”

The extension is the second granted for the site’s state permit. Several members of the council said that although the extension passed the council, they intend to hold the company accountable with the final deadline enacted by Monday’s motion.

ISC council member Jim Miller said he doesn’t want to see the permitting process for this site drag on for as long as other projects have in the past.

The Northern Laramie Range Alliance, continued its opposition of the project. The landowners’ group has challenged the site’s permit in in the Wyoming Supreme Court, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Wasatch Wind won all three challenges, but NLRA members say the company has yet to provide a viable financial plan for the wind farm going forward and faces developmental challenges beyond the scope of most wind farm sites.

NLRA representative Peter Nicolaysen said the simple requirement to enhance the road leading to the site is a barrier that Wasatch must face. He said that even without pending litigation, the company is running into external permitting issues.

The council’s vote to extend the permit with a final deadline was not a surprise given the history of the council, according to Ken Lay, NLRA steering committee member.

“The basic outcome, the extension of time, we’re not surprised,” Lay said. “We’ll have to see how it unfolds now, but we continue to have all of the major concerns for the viability of this project.”

In testimony, Nicolaysen said the group doesn’t believe Wasatch Wind can provide a viable financier for the project.

Wasatch Wind officials say with the added time to complete the process, the site will be one of the most desirable projects for development in the country.

The company is optimistic in comparing the finances of competing sites to be built in the same timeframe as Pioneer Park, Wasatch president Christine Mikell said.

“Most parties out there are looking at 2015 projects, and ours is a 2016 project, so there’s a bit of a lag,” Mikell said. “Once we get through this year, projects will start being built. We’re in a really good position because we have a power purchase agreement. The project is fully developed and ready to go.”

Wasatch entered a newly agreed-upon power purchase agreement with Rocky Mountain Power in April, providing a consumer for the 46-turbine wind farm’s production.

Luke Esch, Industrial Siting Division administrator, said the extension will make the administration of the process much easier for the board, giving them time to set up the final hearing for financial viability.

Wasatch Wind is required to detail potential financiers in an Industrial Siting Council hearing before the August 2015 deadline.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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