Massive wind energy project planned for southern Wyoming

Wind turbine photo
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Rawlins, Wyo. - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wednesday (3/9/16) announced a key milestone for the largest proposed wind energy facility in North America.

The southern Wyoming project has the capacity to open up to 1,000 jobs at peak construction and generate up to 3,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power -- enough to run nearly one million homes.

The Environmental Assessment (EA) BLM released examines the potential, site-specific impacts of constructing 500 wind turbines on mixed ownership land in the first phase of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre (CCSM) Wind Energy Project in southern Wyoming. The two-phase development proposes to build 1,000 wind turbines on 219,707 acres south of Rawlins in Carbon County. BLM administers approximately half of the land, and the remainder of the site is made up of privately owned and state lands.

A Draft Finding of No New Significant Impact (FONNSI) accompanies the EA. BLM is seeking public comments on both documents, which are available at the BLM Wyoming CCSM Wind Energy Project web page or the BLM’s CCSM ePlanning site.

“The Bureau of Land Management is committed to responsibly developing renewable energy on our Nation’s public lands,” said Mary Jo Rugwell, BLM Wyoming Acting State Director. “We’re working in close cooperation with state, local and industry officials as well as non-government groups to evaluate these projects at a landscape-level, with extensive environmental reviews, to mitigate potential impacts and ensure that species needs are met along with renewable energy goals.”

In addition to the 1,000 construction jobs, the CCSM project is expected to create more than a hundred permanent positions in operations and maintenance and generate more than $300 million in property-tax revenue during construction and over its first 20 years of operation. The Power Company of Wyoming LLC, which will develop and operate the project, estimates the complex will contribute $232 million from sales taxes and $170 million from a state wind-electricity tax. The BLM promotes responsible development of utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to diversify the Nation's energy portfolio.

Since 2009, the BLM has approved 57 projects, including 9,763 megawatts (MWs) of solar energy, 4,767 MWs of wind energy and 605 MWs of geothermal, for a total of 15,134 MWs of approved capacity.
The U.S. Secretary of the Interior approved the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision for the CCSM project in 2012. Under the terms of that approval, the developer agreed to work in close consultation with the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to design an Avian Protection Plan and an Eagle Conservation Plan, including measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts to avian and bat species. In addition, the project will avoid Sage-Grouse Core Areas and includes a conservation plan that accommodates ongoing ranching and agricultural operations. The developer also will avoid the more sensitive viewsheds to protect tourism and outdoor recreation values. Permits to build the project will be contingent on implementation of wildlife protection measures.

The 2012 EIS also required additional reviews for specific components of the project including roads, associated infrastructure, and turbine construction. Since then, the infrastructure needs and turbine development have been analyzed under separate EAs. The infrastructure EA analyzed potential impacts from the site specific plans including haul roads, a rail distribution facility, and rock quarry. No new or significant impacts were identified beyond those already analyzed in the project EIS. The Decision Record and FONNSI for the infrastructure EA were approved in 2014. Today’s announcement begins the public review period for the turbine development EA. The BLM does not intend to issue a right of way (ROW) grant for the turbine development until the FWS issues a letter of concurrence on the Eagle Conservation Plan for wind turbine development.

The BLM has scheduled two open houses for the public to ask questions and submit comments on the EA for the Phase 1 wind turbine development. The first meeting will be from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on March 28, 2016 at the Saratoga Town Hall 110 E. Spring Ave., Saratoga, Wyoming. The second public meeting will be from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on March 29, 2016 at the Jeffrey Center, 315 W. Pine St., Rawlins, Wyoming. Each meeting will include a presentation, question and answer period and opportunities for public comment.

Written comments on the Phase I Wind Turbine Development EA and draft FONNSI will be accepted until April 8, 2016. Comments may be emailed to BLM_WY_PCW_windfarm@blm.gov with “CCSM Phase I Wind EA Comment” in the subject line; faxed to 307-328-4224; or mailed or delivered to BLM Rawlins Field Office, Attn: Heather Schultz, CCSM Phase I Wind EA, and 1300 N. Third St., P.O. Box 2407, Rawlins, WY 82301.

Before including your address, phone number, email address or other personal identifying information in your comment, please be advised that your entire comment — including your personal identifying information — may be made publicly available at any time. While you may ask us to withhold from public review your personal identifying information, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

For more information, or to access the EA, please visit the BLM Wyoming CCSM Wind Energy Project web page or the BLM’s CCSM ePlanning site. For additional questions, please contact Heather Schultz at 307-328-4215.