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Wind firms eye southwest Wyo

GREEN RIVER -- Sweetwater County sits atop some of the nation's largest natural gas reserves, about a third of the world's natural soda ash supply and ample reserves of coal and oil. But not all of the county's untapped energy resources lie underground. County officials say a lot of it passes right over head on those blustery, windy Wyoming days

Improved technology and reduced power generation costs have raised interest across the nation in wind energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. Wyoming's industry has a leg up on many other states, and over the past year there have been several new projects proposed for southwest Wyoming.

Recent interest by a developer armed with a proposal to install upward of 133 wind turbines on White Mountain near Rock Springs left Sweetwater County commissioners scrambling this week to develop emergency rules and regulations governing commercial wind farms in Sweetwater County.

The rules will allow commercial development to proceed in the county while planners draft permanent conditional use permit regulations for commercial wind farms.

"I think we're at the very beginning of (commercial wind farm development), and there's the potential for lots more," said Sweetwater County Planner Mark Kot.

"What we're trying to do is put together balanced regulations that allow for wind energy development so we can contribute to the energy demands of the country and also balance the needs of the community," Kot said in an interview.

"We're behind the curve, but I think we're going... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
Improved technology and reduced power generation costs have raised interest across the nation in wind energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. Wyoming's industry has a leg up on many other states, and over the past year there have been several new projects proposed for southwest Wyoming.

Recent interest by a developer armed with a proposal to install upward of 133 wind turbines on White Mountain near Rock Springs left Sweetwater County commissioners scrambling this week to develop emergency rules and regulations governing commercial wind farms in Sweetwater County.

The rules will allow commercial development to proceed in the county while planners draft permanent conditional use permit regulations for commercial wind farms.

"I think we're at the very beginning of (commercial wind farm development), and there's the potential for lots more," said Sweetwater County Planner Mark Kot.

"What we're trying to do is put together balanced regulations that allow for wind energy development so we can contribute to the energy demands of the country and also balance the needs of the community," Kot said in an interview.

"We're behind the curve, but I think we're going to have a set of county regulations in place by mid-month that address environmental concerns, visual impacts, soil and water, historical, cultural and archeological impacts, and includes performance standards and reclamation," he said.

The emergency rules, when adopted later this month by the commission, will be in place for 240 days. Kot said public hearings and workshops will be held once the commission begins to establish permanent rules.

White Mountain proposal

As in many Western states, Sweetwater County's wind resource is vast, and at least one wind farm operator believes there is adequate wind for commercial power production.

Last month, Teton Power LCC submitted a conditional use permit application to establish 133 wind turbines on top of White Mountain between Rock Springs and Green River. The site lies on private property located on the west side of the county road that runs atop White Mountain.

However, at present, the county doesn't have any regulations in place regarding wind farms. Kot said there are some draft regulations in the Unified Development Code, but the document has not been finalized.
Commissioners appointed a committee that drafted the interim emergency rules. The rules will allow the county to consider present proposals for wind farms until permanent regulations are adopted.

"By not having these regulations in place, we're definitely missing some opportunities," Kot said. "These emergency rules will level the playing field ... so that the public and private (commercial wind farm) entities are on the same footing."

Commissioner Wally Johnson said it was important that the county's regulations address concerns about the visual aspects of wind turbines, wildlife and noise concerns, among others.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder ... the viewshed is critical, and that's where the rub comes in with the public," he said. "That's where we'll get concerns."

Uinta County

Different counties are regulating commercial wind farms in different ways, though most set wind farm development as a conditional use for agricultural zoned areas.

In neighboring Uinta County, county planner Kent Williams said there is one wind farm operation up and running and two smaller operations planned and permitted for the Bridger Valley.

Uinta County is home to Wyoming's newest and largest wind farm, a $150 million, 144-megawatt project that went online in June 2004. FPL Energy Inc. and Florida Power Inc.'s Wyoming Wind Energy Center northeast of Evanston includes 80 wind turbines that are capable of generating enough electricity to power 43,000 homes.

"We've had good luck in the county with the wind farm we have right now ... By and large I think the greatest percentage of our population has been very supportive of the project," Williams said in a phone interview.

"And we do have two conditional use permits that are currently in force for two, smaller additional projects, but construction on those hasn't begun yet," he said.

Tasco Engineering -- a Lehi, Utah-based company that specializes in siting, funding and commissioning wind power facilities across the West -- is proposing to install up to 20 wind turbines near Bridger Butte in eastern Uinta County on private property and at another site southwest of the butte in the same area.

He said the company has had difficulties finding turbines for the project because of the high demand in the marketplace.

Williams said he was surprised there hasn't been more interest in commercial wind farm development in the county.

"We receive phone calls quite often from different development companies wanting to know what are regulations are ... but that's about where it's ended for the most part," he said.

"We never really thought about wind development until (the FPL Energy) project, and now I'm thinking, 'My goodness. Why didn't we do this 20 years ago or even five years ago?'"

Source: http://casperstartribune.ne...

FEB 12 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1290-wind-firms-eye-southwest-wyo
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