By Ray K. Erku
Via Wyoming News Exchange
RAWLINS – If Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality approves an amendment request submitted by Power Company of Wyoming LLC, Carbon County is likely to inherit a few more years of wind farm development.
Submitted earlier last month, PCW requested that the permit pertaining to the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, first granted by the Industrial Siting Council in 2014, allow for production to be pushed back to 2026, thereby extending the deadline three years.
The $5 billion wind farm backed by Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz is set to install up to 1,000 turbines on portions 320,000 acres of federally- and privately-owned lands south of Rawlins and northwest of Saratoga. It’s projected to usher in about $850 million in state tax revenues.
Changes to the permit will also authorize the project to cut 230 workers from production, slashing peak year employment of 945 to 715 by 2026.
According to the PCW, based on recommendations from contractors involved with previous successful wind farm projects, the reduction in workers “relieves the cumulative workforce levels anticipated in the area of influence.”
“The peaks are spread out,” Denver-based PCW spokesperson Kara Choquette told the Rawlins Times on Wednesday.
The PCW proposal also aims to make installation for turbine and adjoining transmission components “more efficient.” Developers will be directed to focus primarily on completing infrastructure elements, such as turbine pads, water systems and roads, before proceeding with phase one and two wind charger and transmission installation.
Apart from the new wind farm, however, which, since its start in 2016, has already seen construction of more than 60 miles of surrounding roadways as well as 49 turbine pads, there is another factor that influenced PCW’s request: Procedures behind the TransWest Express Transmission Project headed by TransWest Express LLC.
What’s projected to span 730 miles between Sinclair and the Hoover Dam, TransWest will connect CCSM’s wind-produced energy to markets in California, Nevada and Arizona. Although county and federal permits have been given the green light, officials currently await permit approval from the state ISC.
Without it, connectivity to the Southwest will encounter delays, thus possibly hampering demand from utility entities and corporate purchasers of those areas. Currently, no power purchase agreements have been finalized.
“The proposed schedule change better aligns turbine component installation with market demand and the expected availability of the new, high-capacity transmission projects necessary to transmit energy from the CCSM Project to the target market in the Desert Southwest,” the PCW wrote in their proposal.
But how will construction extension and decrease in workers affect Carbon County and Wyoming?
Throughout the 11-year duration of project construction, area hotels, RV parks, campsites and any other form of lodging will fill with non-local workers, whom, in turn, are likely to frequent area commerce. Stays typically last between April and December, Choquette notes.
According to Leslie Jefferson, Executive Director of the Carbon County Visitors’ Council, it’s not just the influx of workers, but their families as well, that bolster area revenue derived from lodging and sales taxes.
The drop in workforce may slow the figures.
“We do see significant tourism dollars,” says Jefferson of visiting workers. The two-percent lodging tax, however, becomes exempt after a 30-day stay in area accommodations.
It’s also noteworthy that what could turn into North America’s largest wind farm and its accompanying transmission line aren’t the only players on the block; they make up just a couple of the many local, high-priced endeavors currently in the works.
Carbon County Planning and Development Director Sid Fox says work on the Aeolus Substation near Medicine Bow is slated for spring. The substation is linked to the Gateway West Transmission Line Project, which is partially backed by Nebraska billionaire Warren Buffett. Meanwhile, Arlington’s Foote Creek Rim and Medicine Bow’s 7-Mile Hill wind farms will soon undergo replacement and retooling procedures respectively.
Perhaps the most notorious attraction to subcontracted transient workers, however, is the Sinclair Oil Refinery. Last year, the entity saw about 1,800 laborers flock to the county.
This could mean, on top of everything, says Jefferson, the 230-person decrease in CCSM’s workforce is minuscule and that it “works out in the wash.”
“It’s going to be a really busy summer,” she said. “It’s going to be great for the county.”
The DEQ intends to approve PCW’s proposed permit amendment on Thursday.