Albany commissioners reject solar development moratorium

LARAMIE — The Albany County Commission rejected calls for a solar energy development moratorium, deciding instead to propose a set of minimum standards and voiced support for developing further standards at a later date.

The set of minimum standards comes from a new state law passed earlier this year and requires commercial energy producers to seek solar facility permits from the county commission

“Moratoriums are a really nasty emergency tool,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said. “It’s not something you just whip out of your toolbox every other day because it’s fun.”

The vote and discussion come as the Laramie City Council is beginning to work with NextEra Energy on bringing a solar facility to Laramie. That solar facility could be built on the city-owned Monolith Ranch and produce more energy, measured by megawatt hours, than Laramie currently consumes.

The stay on solar facility development was slated for consideration by both the county commission and its advisory board, the Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission, during a special joint meeting of the two boards Wednesday.

The three county commissioners were unanimous in their support of the minimum standards and their rejection of the proposed moratorium, as were the five members of the planning and zoning board.

However, several members of the planning and zoning board had originally spoken in support of a moratorium, before a discussion with County Planner David Getsch, County Prosecuting Attorney Peggy Trent and the county commissioners.

“With the interest right now across the state for solar energy, and to start permitting processes for solar projects, we need to get something on the books,” Gertsch said. “We need to get the minimums on there so we can require a permit and then require those standards that are required of us.”

Members of the planning and zoning board who had voiced strong support for the idea of a moratorium, such as David Cunningham and Carl Miller, recanted their earlier comments and supported the ultimately unanimous vote for adopting minimum standards.

“I don’t feel like indefinite moratoriums are a way to move the county forward,” Planning and Zoning Commission Member Keith Kennedy said. “We could move these forward and the county commissioners could adopt them so we have something in place and that would allow us, the next two meetings, to examine this and make any additions to this.”

In stark contrast to these statements of support for the minimum standards, an extensive public comment period at the outset of the special meeting Wednesday featured many several voices speaking in support of the proposed 90-day moratorium.

“I suggest that we all carefully consider these issues and all aspects of them,” said county resident Brett Wadsworth. “A solar moratorium may be appropriate to make sure we carefully think about all aspects of this before we introduce commercial power plants to the area because it will have a permanent impact.”

Others explicitly stated they were supporters of renewable energy like wind and solar, but did not want commissioners to rush the establishment of regulations. Karen Schertz of Tie Siding said the county needed a plan that is sensitive to the diverse parts of the county.

“I’m for renewables, but I think there’s a right place for them,” she said.

Commissioners Pete Gosar and Commission Chair Terri Jones voiced support for working with the Environmental Advisory Committee to develop standards beyond the minimum required by state law. The Environmental Advisory Committee’s seven members are appointed by the joint action of both the county commissioners and the Laramie City Council.