Article

Wind farm construction shouldn't be in doubt

The Natrona County Commission has had three years to consider how to regulate commercial wind farms here. ...But there were no county guidelines for construction of wind farms three years ago. In fact, the county commission didn't approve its wind farm regulations until last September. ...after more than a dozen public meetings over the last two years, neighboring property owners have petitioned a 7th District Court judge to invalidate the permits approved by the county commissioners.

The Natrona County Commission has had three years to consider how to regulate commercial wind farms here. That's how long ago Chevron Global Power Co. asked for permission to erect a temporary 60-meter tower with an anemometer on top to measure wind speed on the former Texaco refinery site east of Evansville.

The purpose of the measurements was to see if wind speeds were adequate to build a commercially viable wind farm on the property. The company found that they were, and notified the county it wanted to do so.

But there were no county guidelines for construction of wind farms three years ago. In fact, the county commission didn't approve its wind farm regulations until last September. It used existing requirements in Platte County as a template for its own, including establishing either a quarter-mile or half-mile -- the regulations had a contradiction that is being resolved -- buffer zone between turbines and local residences.

Chevron said it did everything that was required to obtain permits from the county to begin building an 11-turbine farm. Construction is set to start in only two weeks.

But after more than a dozen public meetings over the last... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

The Natrona County Commission has had three years to consider how to regulate commercial wind farms here. That's how long ago Chevron Global Power Co. asked for permission to erect a temporary 60-meter tower with an anemometer on top to measure wind speed on the former Texaco refinery site east of Evansville.

The purpose of the measurements was to see if wind speeds were adequate to build a commercially viable wind farm on the property. The company found that they were, and notified the county it wanted to do so.

But there were no county guidelines for construction of wind farms three years ago. In fact, the county commission didn't approve its wind farm regulations until last September. It used existing requirements in Platte County as a template for its own, including establishing either a quarter-mile or half-mile -- the regulations had a contradiction that is being resolved -- buffer zone between turbines and local residences.

Chevron said it did everything that was required to obtain permits from the county to begin building an 11-turbine farm. Construction is set to start in only two weeks.

But after more than a dozen public meetings over the last two years, neighboring property owners have petitioned a 7th District Court judge to invalidate the permits approved by the county commissioners. They claim the permits were granted without substantial evidence to support the finding that the project complied with the county's emergency regulations and "did not substantially affect the health, safety and welfare of the surrounding property owners."

If the judge grants the request, it will halt a project that Chevron has already spent an estimated $10 million to bring to this point.

It was hardly a surprise to the county that the company wanted to build a wind farm, or that other firms might want to do the same. But the county took two and a half years to approve a set of questionable regulations.

One of the key issues is the buffer zone. One critic of Chevron's proposal said other companies use much larger buffer zones.

While we disagree with opponents who contend that Chevron didn't involve the community in the project, we acknowledge that they have raised some legitimate safety and health concerns, including the blades' strobing effect at sunset, which reportedly could cause seizures for nearby residents with epilepsy.

If the wind farm is blocked, it will be a huge black mark against the county. Other companies would look at the experience Chevron had in trying to bring its project to fruition and quickly conclude that the county can't be counted on to make such economic development happen.

In addition to Chevron's investment and what the project means to local contractors, there's a lot of county money at stake. It's estimated that the wind farm would generate substantial revenues for Natrona County annually for the next 30 years.

If the county is fortunate and the project goes ahead, officials need to do everything they can to prevent this kind of monkey wrench in the future. The commissioners seem to always have a lot on their plate, but it's essential they be proactive and look ahead at the kind of development they know is coming, and write solid guidelines that can withstand a legal challenge. It's ridiculous that a company so close to starting construction has to worry that it might not have the authority that the county granted it.


Source: http://www.trib.com/article...

MAY 3 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/20109-wind-farm-construction-shouldn-t-be-in-doubt
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