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Wyo wind farms need consistent regulations

There may be a place for local decision-making on wind farm siting, but the situation now is confusing for wind developers. Throw in the fact that wind turbines on federal land require additional analysis and approval by the Bureau of Land Management, and you have multiple levels of permitting that most certainly contain some inconsistencies.

We all know that Wyoming has plenty of wind that could be harnessed to generate electricity, but a number of obstacles stand in the way of the state realizing its full wind-power potential.

Among them are a lack of electrical transmission lines, the fact that some prime spots for wind farms are in the middle of key habitat for sage grouse and other species, and opposition by some Wyomingites to seeing wind turbines near their homes or their favorite scenic spots.

But perhaps the most significant is the lack of a consistent regulatory framework to guide construction of wind farms across the state. Wyoming and its counties for the most part have been caught unprepared to deal with the wind energy boom, and we risk losing out on a real economic opportunity if we don't catch up soon.

The best example of the problem may be the proposed White Mountain Wind Farm near Rock Springs. Utah-based Tasco Engineering Inc. wants to build up to 237 turbines on the mountain that overlooks the city, but the proposal is caught up in a bureaucratic process with no indication of when it might end.

The problem stems primarily from a disconnect between Sweetwater County's wind... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

We all know that Wyoming has plenty of wind that could be harnessed to generate electricity, but a number of obstacles stand in the way of the state realizing its full wind-power potential.

Among them are a lack of electrical transmission lines, the fact that some prime spots for wind farms are in the middle of key habitat for sage grouse and other species, and opposition by some Wyomingites to seeing wind turbines near their homes or their favorite scenic spots.

But perhaps the most significant is the lack of a consistent regulatory framework to guide construction of wind farms across the state. Wyoming and its counties for the most part have been caught unprepared to deal with the wind energy boom, and we risk losing out on a real economic opportunity if we don't catch up soon.

The best example of the problem may be the proposed White Mountain Wind Farm near Rock Springs. Utah-based Tasco Engineering Inc. wants to build up to 237 turbines on the mountain that overlooks the city, but the proposal is caught up in a bureaucratic process with no indication of when it might end.

The problem stems primarily from a disconnect between Sweetwater County's wind farm regulations and those of the state Industrial Siting Council. Tasco already has a conditional use permit from the county to build 36 turbines on the mountain, but the county commission can't seem to decide whether to issue a permit for the other 200 the company wants to build.

Part of that indecision comes from the fact that Sweetwater County residents are divided over whether the wind farm would be good or bad for the county -- whether the view of a long line of turbines on top of the mountain is worth the economic benefits they would bring. But the commissioners also are uncertain about how its regulations match up with those of the Industrial Siting Council, which issues permits for industrial projects costing $170 million or more. (A 36-turbine wind farm likely wouldn't reach that threshold, but 237 turbines definitely would.)

Sweetwater County officials say they'd like to defer to the Industrial Siting Council's guidelines, including the distances required between the turbines and roads. Problem is, there's no reason for Tasco to seek an ISC permit until the county issues a permit for the expanded wind farm. So, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

A legislative task force is looking into the issue of wind farm regulation, including the possibility of drafting statewide, uniform rules and regulations. As it stands now, aside from the Industrial Siting Council process, the state leaves it up to counties to develop regulations to guide wind development. Some counties, including Sweetwater, have adopted or are considering such rules -- others have none. The Sweetwater County situation seems to show that the state should at least issue guidelines that match up with the Industrial Siting Council's requirements.

State guidelines also should clearly show the state's sage grouse "core areas," where state officials now say no wind turbines should be allowed.

There may be a place for local decision-making on wind farm siting, but the situation now is confusing for wind developers. Throw in the fact that wind turbines on federal land require additional analysis and approval by the Bureau of Land Management, and you have multiple levels of permitting that most certainly contain some inconsistencies.

There's no question that wind power will continue to become a bigger piece of the nation's energy mix, and wind turbines are going to spring up across the country. If Wyoming doesn't figure out soon how it wants to handle the siting of wind farms in the state -- including a permitting process that provides some consistency for developers -- there's a good chance those turbines will be built elsewhere.


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

JUL 5 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/20999-wyo-wind-farms-need-consistent-regulations
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