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Commissioners question Chevron wind project

The Natrona County Commissioners formally voted on Feb. 3 to approve a zoned use control area and the conditional use permits that would allow wind turbines within the former north tank farm area of the closed refinery. Construction was planned to start in May. But last week, the preparations for the county's first WECS (Commercial Wind Energy Conversion System) generated a gust of concern from the Natrona County Commission.

The Chevron Global Power wind farm on the former Texaco refinery site just east of Evansville seemed set to go.

The Natrona County Commissioners formally voted on Feb. 3 to approve a zoned use control area and the conditional use permits that would allow wind turbines within the former north tank farm area of the closed refinery.

Construction was planned to start in May.

But last week, the preparations for the county's first WECS (Commercial Wind Energy Conversion System) generated a gust of concern from the Natrona County Commission.

Their worries about the future decommissioning of the towers and the setback regulations that initially sparked opposition from neighbors has slowed the project.

"We're worried about 30 years down the road if something happens to Chevron. Someone has to be liable to take them (the wind turbines) down," said Natrona County Commission Chair Rob Hendry. "The neighbors are concerned about the setbacks ... we may have to go to one-half mile."

Decisions about how to decommission a wind farm at the end of an anticipated 30- to 50-year lifespan weren't part of the commissioners' approval of the project. The issue moved to the forefront of new discussions... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

The Chevron Global Power wind farm on the former Texaco refinery site just east of Evansville seemed set to go.

The Natrona County Commissioners formally voted on Feb. 3 to approve a zoned use control area and the conditional use permits that would allow wind turbines within the former north tank farm area of the closed refinery.

Construction was planned to start in May.

But last week, the preparations for the county's first WECS (Commercial Wind Energy Conversion System) generated a gust of concern from the Natrona County Commission.

Their worries about the future decommissioning of the towers and the setback regulations that initially sparked opposition from neighbors has slowed the project.

"We're worried about 30 years down the road if something happens to Chevron. Someone has to be liable to take them (the wind turbines) down," said Natrona County Commission Chair Rob Hendry. "The neighbors are concerned about the setbacks ... we may have to go to one-half mile."

Decisions about how to decommission a wind farm at the end of an anticipated 30- to 50-year lifespan weren't part of the commissioners' approval of the project. The issue moved to the forefront of new discussions with Chevron last week.

"I foresee that as a huge problem," said Commissioner Barb Peryam. "The company is solvent and stable, but it's easy to fall through the cracks."

Chevron Global Gas President Greg Vesey, who traveled from Houston to visit with the commissioners at a work session, assured them the project, which will be paid for when it starts, would operate "as long as somebody's there to buy power. The turbines will be spinning."

Chevron would agree to a two-year renewable bond that could not be cancelled without the Natrona County Commission's approval. Details on bond specifics still are being worked out.

Solving the setback issue may not be as easy or as positive for the project's future.

Larger setbacks could stop the project

Part of the county's approval of the Chevron project included some changes to the county's emergency wind regulations that were passed in September.

The first round of regulations, which included a half-mile setback from primary structures within two zoning districts, was a "stopgap measure" meant to keep towers from getting too crowded in the county's less densely populated areas, according to county planner Gene Wallace.

The regulations only applied in two out of 15 county zoning districts, where commercial-sized wind towers would be allowed: RAM (ranching, agriculture and mining) and urban agricultural.

The use control area (UCA) zoning for the 1,400-acre former refinery property was new, with its own regulations for allowed uses, explained Wallace.

One of the allowed uses that was supported by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality was a WECS.

Chevron's placement of the towers was based on a two-year wind study that identified the optimal placement for the 11 towers needed to generate enough power to meet a purchase agreement with Pacific Power and compliance with the county's wind regulations.

Within the UCA, the setback from primary structures was set at one-quarter mile. The regulations also include different setbacks for such things as municipal boundaries, federal and state facilities and roads and highways.

No change was made in the new zoning area to the requirement that a tower cannot be closer than 110 percent of the tower's height, which the county regulations define as being from foundation to the highest point of the vertical rotor blade.

"Setbacks are part of the regulatory way a county does zoning," said consulting attorney Margo Sabec, who is helping the county on development of permanent wind regulations.

The towers' placement generated questioning, and the potential for litigation, because of the differing regulatory setbacks among zones and whether setbacks could be considered a taking of neighboring property.

Even though adjacent property owners aren't legally precluded from using any part of the property that falls within the setback, the commissioners and the county planning department, along with Sabec, are considering wind tower setback changes.

Changing the setbacks from one-quarter to one-half mile ultimately may please the neighbors, but Vesey told the commissioners the change could make Chevron's project a "no go."

"This is all about taking advantage of the land we have," he said. "If (the setback) goes to one-half mile, we don't have a project."

"This is a twist we weren't expecting," in a project with 2009 funding that was supposed to start in May, added Chevron site manager Chris Buchholz.

With solutions such as a Chevron purchase of more land to enlarge the site or fewer towers not an option for the company, Commissioner Ed Opella suggested the easiest option would be for Chevron to get waivers for any setback requirements from the adjacent property owners.

"We did pass it with one-quarter mile; they (Chevron) need to talk to all the property owners," said Hendry.

Residents file petition

Eight individuals have filed a petition in Seventh District Court to invalidate the conditional use permits granted to Chevron Global Power's proposed wind farm on the former Evansville refinery site.

According to one of the petitioners, Stan Mundy, the county should honor the half-mile buffer for the urban-agricultural zone that is in the emergency regulations the commissioners approved in September.

"It's time to do the right thing," Mundy said. "It's a shame it takes attorneys to pressure them to do the right thin.

"I thought the county was supposed to look out for us. Just like I've been telling them for two years ... I don't want to live next to a wind farm."


Source: http://www.casperjournal.co...

APR 29 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/20122-commissioners-question-chevron-wind-project
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