Wyoming will pay local communities in the state’s windiest region a little over $5 million to address the impacts from two wind developments now edging forward.
The Ekola Flats wind project proposed near Medicine Bow — which will be owned and operated by Rocky Mountain Power — and Invenergy’s Uinta Wind Energy Project near Evanston will bring an influx of workers and traffic that could strain the communities nearby.
The Industrial Siting Council — a governor-appointed group that oversees large, expensive construction projects — approved both projects last month and cemented the package of dollars going to towns like Medicine Bow, Evanston and Rock River.
The dollars are intended to boost local income during the construction phase of large projects.
“It’s really that you have a very large, non-local workforce come into a county,” said Kimber Wichmann, chief economist of the Industrial Siting Division of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
Wyoming is on track to double its installed wind capacity if current wind farm proposals are completed. With the upcoming sunset of federal subsidies for wind power, developers and utilities are rushing to take advantage of the tax credits before they’re gone.
Though Wyoming winds are some of the best in the West, the state has experienced a lull of new development in recent years. That’s now changing.
Over time large projects generate jobs and revenue, but the construction phase comes first. County and town budgets aren’t necessarily able to absorb the impact, said Wichmann.
As soon as the developer alerts the Industrial Siting Division that it’s begun construction, the council notifies the Department of Revenue, which starts releasing the monthly payments from Wyoming’s general fund.
The Ekola Flats project is proposed just outside of Medicine Bow. It is one of three wind farms that PacifiCorp will add to its Wyoming fleet. The company is racing to build these wind farms, along with a 150-mile leg of its Gateway West transmission line and an upgrade of its current wind farms, before federal tax subsidies sunset for new wind projects in 2020.
The federal subsidy drives down the overall cost of developing new wind by providing a tax credit. Given that once operational wind power costs are marginal compared to traditional power plants, the company has argued before utility regulators in Wyoming that the new build should not result in an increase in customer rates.
Ekola will consist of up to 100 turbines, a total of about 250 megawatts of potential power on about 27,000 acres of private and state-owned lands just outside of Medicine Bow.
The wind farm will result in about $4.8 million to Carbon and Albany counties, paid out once construction begins, over a period of 15 months. Carbon County will receive about $150,000 monthly for towns. Medicine Bow will receive $50,000 a month, while towns like Saratoga receive smaller amounts under $10,000.
The Uinta project will bring in about $385,000 to be split equally between the county and the city of Evanston. Once construction begins, those payments will be doled out monthly over a period of 19 months. It is a roughly 47-turbine project to be located about 4 miles outside of Evanston.
The Invenergy development was once included in the Rocky Mountain Power wind expansion but is now operating on its own.
The community impact amounts were once tied to revenue — as opposed to the current structure that maxes out impact payments at 2.76 percent of the construction’s material cost, or $6.36 million. The state changed that tack because Wyoming’s boom and bust economy could undermine the intent of community assistance dollars, Wichmann said.