Salt Lake City-based sPower will need to start construction this week on the controversial $120 million Pioneer Wind Park project if it hopes to beat the Feb. 15 expiration date set by the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council. For its part, the company says the long-awaited project south of Glenrock will begin on time.
After several years of delays and a tortured history of lawsuits, hearings, permit extensions and red-tape, construction on the wind park, which is sited on the Grant and True Ranches near Mormon Canyon, is finally moving forward, according to those involved.
“We plan on starting construction this week to keep in compliance with the conditional permit,” sPower Marketing Vice President Naomi Keller said.
“They were going to start working last week, but the weather prevented it,” rancher Rick Grant said Monday. Grant clarified that he was speaking as a landowner and not as a Converse County commissioner. “I think the plan is to start on a substation west of Mormon Canyon so they can tie into Rocky Mountain Power’s grid.”
The county issued a permit for the project back in 2011. The permit followed the state statutes, and commissioners at the time said they had no choice but to issue the permit once the company met all requirements. Along with a road use agreement for Mormon Canyon Road, sPower will pay for the cost of improvements to the road in order to get equipment to the site.
Converse County Commissioner Jim Willox said the road improvement projects will begin once the weather improves.
Kenneth Lay of the North Laramie Range Alliance owns land adjacent to the project and has been a vocal opponent of the project since its inception. Lay’s group, which was created in response to the proposed wind park, filed several appeals and lawsuits in an attempted to get the project stopped. Lay continues to express skepticism as to whether sPower can actually meet the construction deadline.
“I also don’t know if the power purchase agreements are in place with Rocky Mountain Power,” Lay said. “There’s a huge amount of uncertainty surrounding this still. We’re very conscious of the developments, and we’ll continue watching it.
“The initial service date is supposed to be this summer,” Lay said, “but, if they can’t get it in service by December, I think that might be brought before the (Wyoming) Public Service Commission for consideration.”
In February 2011, Wasatch Wind Intermountain LLC filed for a permit with the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council to build a pair of wind farms in Converse County.
In July 2011, the council approved a permit with two special conditions – construction would begin within three years following the date of the permit, and prior to construction Wasatch would provide proof to the council within two years that it had sufficient financial resources to develop, construct, maintain, operate, decommission and reclaim the facility. If Wasatch didn’t meet the requirements within that two year window, the permit was supposed to expire.
Since then, the company has been granted several extensions and had been on shaky financial grounds at times while trying to keep its power purchase agreement with Rocky Mountain Power – an agreement through which RMP would buy and transmit the power generated by the wind farms.
In May 2013, Wasatch submitted a request to the council for a 10-month extension from the original expiration date, which pushed the deadline to show sufficient financial resources to May 2014. Wasatch also cut the number of proposed turbines from 62 to 46. The council granted the request in June 2013.
In May 2014, Wasatch applied for a second extension and asked that both the construction and financing deadlines be pushed back. The council approved the second extension in July 2014; the deadline for showing sufficient financial resources was pushed to Aug. 15, 2015; and the deadline for commencing construction was pushed to Feb. 15, 2016.
On Aug. 14, 2015, the day before Wasatch needed to show proof of financial resources, a company called FTP Power, (owned by New York-based hedge fund Fir Tree Partners), announced that it had purchased both Pioneer Wind Parks from Wasatch through its subsidiary, sPower.
With the direct flow of some $13 billion in capital from Fir Tree, FTP Power argued that it had satisfied the sufficient finances condition and could begin construction as soon as they received approval from the council.
The matter was brought before a public hearing in Douglas on Oct. 12, 2015, and after 10 hours of testimony, the council found that sPower had met the financial conditions.