CASPER, Wyo. — A controversial wind farm planned outside Glenrock appears headed for court — again.
The Wyoming Industrial Siting Council gave its blessing to the project last week, voting 4-3 that the wind park’s new developer had demonstrated the financial capacity to build the 46-turbine facility.
But a group of landowners opposed to the project said it is likely to appeal the ruling in state district court.
“Our primary objection is that we do not believe the council had a substantive basis for a finding that the financial capacity condition had been satisfied,” said Kenneth Lay, a lawyer and member of the Northern Laramie Range Alliance.
The NLRA, a landowners group which claims more than 900 members, has waged a fierce legal campaign against the 80 megawatt wind farm since it was proposed in 2011.
The group challenged the project at the Wyoming Supreme Court, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and in federal court, losing in each instance.
At issue presently is the financial capability of sPower, a Salt Lake City-based company that purchased the wind farm from Wasatch Wind in August. Under the requirements of its state permit, sPower must show it has the financial backing to build the $120 million to $145 million development.
sPower claims it has the money, noting its parent firm, the New York hedge fund Fir Tree Capital, manages $13 billion in assets. A filing with state regulators showed sPower owns assets equaling $976 million.
Naomi Keller, an sPower spokeswoman, said the company would continue moving forward with the project. Construction will begin before Feb. 15, 2016, she said.
But the NLRA sees cause for concern. sPower never disclosed its income nor demonstrated it can draw on Fir Tree’s resources in filings to the Industrial Siting Council, the group contends. The relationship to Fir Tree is particularly important, they argue. In 2012, Wasatch’s financial partner Edison Mission Energy filed for bankruptcy. Edison Mission’s parent firm, Edison International, never stepped in to keep its subsidiary in business. State regulators twice extended Wasatch’s deadline to show financial capacity before the Park City company sold to sPower.
Keller declined to comment on a potential NLRA lawsuit, but added, “The ISC agreed that sPower has sufficient financial capabilities to construct, operate, maintain, decommission and reclaim the project. We continue to have strong ongoing relationships with global banking institutions.”
The debate resulted in a 10-hour hearing before the Industrial Siting Council Oct. 12 in Douglas, which ultimately resulted in the 4-3 vote in favor of the project. Councilors on both sides of the issue described the vote as difficult.
Two councilors who voted in favor of the project, Jim Miller, of Sundance, and Ken Lantta, of Casper, declined comment on the issue and referred a reporter to the meeting’s transcript.
Richard O’Gara, of Cheyenne, said he voted against the project because he wanted more information. The company did not provide an income statement nor explain its relationship to Fir Tree, he said. Instead, sPower produced a balance sheet showing its assets and liabilities from the first half of 2015.
”The statutes are very vague. They don’t address what constitutes financial capability. It’s difficult,” he said. “After hearing all the testimony, in my mind they did not demonstrate financial capability.”
Pete Brandjord, a Green River councilor, echoed those concerns, but came to the opposite conclusion.
”I think they produced what the rules required them to produce,” he said. “I think there is some room for improvement in those rules, but I do feel like they provided what the rules required.”