State land commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday to lease 4,804 acres south of Laramie for a wind farm, rebuffing neighbors’ protest that up to 151 windmills as high as 675 feet would mar a natural and heritage-rich landscape.
The 40-year deal with ConnectGen would be part of a larger 26,000-acre development, 80% of which would be on private land. ConnectGen estimates the entire project will generate $45 million for the state and $131 million for Albany County for a total of $176 million over the life of the project. The leases themselves would bring about $21 million over 40 years, hearing attendees said.
The sprawling proposal around Tie Siding — a tiny community 18 miles south of Laramie — proposes 60 miles of new roads plus 105 miles of electrical collection lines, some of them on 50-foot poles, and substations. The Tie Siding project would build 16 or so rows of turbines a half mile apart on large blocks of rolling sagebrush land stretching 10 miles north from the Colorado border and 10 miles east-west.
The Rail Tie Wind Project boundaries are within two miles of Interstate 80. Project critics say the area — a mix of private and state-owned land — is the city’s best option for the kind of high-end residential development needed to attract University of Wyoming faculty and upscale business employees.
The project would hurt tourism, harm property values, bother wildlife and degrade scenery, critics say, including at the historic Ames Monument, which marks the highest point on the first railroad across the country.
“I will be moving if this project moves forward,” area resident Kirk Stone told the board.
The State Board of Land Commissioners — a panel made up of Wyoming’s governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and superintendent of public instruction — heard conflicting information from supporters and critics regarding their duty as managers of school trust land, dedicated at statehood to benefit schools and several other state institutions. The board does not have a duty to lease the land, said Mitchell Edwards, an attorney who said he represented more than 60 landowners fighting the project.
But State Superintendent Jillian Balow said it is her duty to lease the land for the student beneficiaries and that the project represents “the greatest benefit for this land at this time.”
State Treasurer Curt Meier cast his dissenting vote because of landowner complaints, the potential for new wind development guidelines and future options that might hold more appeal. “I think we’re better off to keep our powder dry and look at a more lucrative project in future years,” he said.
After approval, an environmental study
The board decided the project poses no substantive impairment to existing agricultural and grazing leases on the state property, a necessary finding for the wind leases to advance. State lands director Jenifer Scoggin recommended approval of the deal.
Auditor Kristi Racines, Gov. Mark Gordon and Secretary of State Ed Buchanan joined Balow in the majority vote.
Quantum Energy Partners, a Houston-based energy investment company, owns the ConnectGen family of corporations, which were established in 2018. The 504-megawatt Rail Tie installation would connect to an existing transmission line owned by the Western Area Power Administration, Platte River Power Authority and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Authority. WAPA is preparing an environmental impact statement on the plan, an examination critics said should have been completed before the state committed its property.
WAPA has said the wind farm is located in a “sparsely populated area [with a] relatively low probability of substantial natural resources conflicts.”
Commissioners heard supporters’ and critics’ opposing views on how state action would affect ConnectGen’s plans. State rejection would stall the plan, some said, while others warned that Wyoming’s land would become unused islands in an otherwise profitable venture if land commissioners decided not to lease. Rail Tie could be operational by the end of 2022, ConnectGen states in project descriptions.
Laramie County School District 1 trustee Marguerite Herman told the land board its fiduciary responsibilities lay with the schools. “This is not public land,” she said, “it’s trust land.”
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Area residents criticized the industrialization of the landscape, saying the larger, new generation turbines — whose blades reach up to 675 above the ground — are on the scale of Devils Tower. Proposed 6-megawatt turbines would come within 200 feet of the 867-foot height of that igneous butte, area resident Jennifer Kirchhoefer wrote the land board.
Wyoming’s Capitol building measures 146 feet from grade to spire. The tallest building in the state — White Hall at the University of Wyoming — is 200 feet high. One commenter said the tall turbines and their blades would be 73% higher than conventional windmills that reach to 390 feet.
It’s ironic Balow originally voted against this but then sent out a press release this week to slam the Biden administration’s oil/gas lease moratorium, saying it was “unconscionable” and “draconian” that the new administration would defund schools during these trying times. Would she apply those same adjectives to her original vote?
One of the hardest things about this proposed lease decision has been keeping everyone (including members of the Land Board) focused on the question of whether this was a good deal for the school land trust. All the rest is interesting and important — but ultimately not the issue before the Land Board.
Wyoming received that land in 1890 with the commitment to be trustees for the surface and minerals for the benefit of the school childen of Wyoming. That got lost in the debate about renewables and permitting issues and the interests of non-benificiaries. Eventually, the top five voted their fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries. They sometimes blow these kinds of conflicts, notably when pressed by influential people, but usually they keep their focus and rely on the professional staff of OSLI. Proposed land exchanges can raise protests by people who will lose long-assumed access to trust sections they don’t pay for.
What became evident is that people with concerns don’t trust the state and county regulators, so they wanted the Land Board to do that job. That might merit some discussion by somebody else at another time.
Heres the deal. This state has had 10+ years to do the right thing in regards to passing the simplest of taxes, has the legislature followed through with this? Nope. Guess what? They won’t this time either. So, there’s not really much of a choice now is there? My advice would be that in 2022 do not vote for anyone who says they will refuse to advance any new tax bills of any kind. We live in the developed world, it cost money to do this in order for there to be public education and infrastructure, usually that money comes from taxes. In this case, it’s going to come from taxes from the wind farm. Don’t like it? Maybe it’s time to grow up and realize that we need rethink things like a sales tax increase, increased energy taxes, more property tax, and the most obvious of things like an increased tobacco tax. Maybe even (god forbid) a state income tax. If you don’t want these taxes fine, but get used to your view of the landscape changing. You get what you vote for and there’s always a cost, so those that are complaining need to make better informed decisions next time at the ballot box. That said, I applaud the state land commission for approving this, given the mess we are in. This was clearly a no-brainer.
It is amusing that the same “anti-wind turbine” folks in Wyoming would undoubtedly be the same “anti-mask” group.
I think it is fantastic that Laramie Wyoming’s self righteous quest for renewables will aid one the largest frackers on the planet and a huge republican donor. Certainly living downwind of a coal fired plant in Wyoming was a terrible fate that caused long term damage to plants and animals for which compensation should have been rendered; however, to only receive tax revenue from these gargantuan things without the addition of kilowatts for our county was short sighted.
I find it funny that Albany County HAD to have these things, whose construction will cause so many heartaches, because of the blind religion for renewables. Oh well, drag a few dollars in front of those elected to make decisions while not seeing the long term consequences is why the decision seemed easy in the first place.
“The next five years may be the best five years we’ve ever had for hydrocarbon investing,” he said.
In a state $500,000,000 in debt, $41,000,000 seems a rather low return on a 40 year lease.
These wind (and solar) “farms” are the biggest scam foisted on the public since the refusal to disarm nuclear weaponry after the Soviet Union (finally) fell apart during the late 80s and early 90s. The “farms” are simply a way of ensuring that public utilities remain in private hands, for private wealth generation, and the effects they have on the landscape and wildlife be damned.
If this country was serious about solar (which includes wind) energy, it would have begun–long ago–a massive, publicly funded program requiring installation of solar panels on every existing and new structure built in the country. There was talk about converting war-materiel plants (“defense” plants) to production of solar panels, also at the time the Soviet Union fell apart. But, of course, it did not happen. In fact, there was no “peace dividend” at all. The robber barons of “investor owned” utilities, along with “defense” contractors, saw to that.
It’s not too late to implement such a program, if only we have the will to demand it from our currently wealth-serving “representatives” in the congress, state legislatures, and in state and federal executive branches. A good, healthy, income and wealth tax on robber barons and their wealthy lackeys would get the ball rolling. Such a program would provide Americans with high-paying, permanent jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and eventual replacement of solar panels.
The only question is this: do we have the will to demand that it happen? Or, do we prefer to continue our long sleep-walk that began in the early 1970s? A sleep-walk, fueled by lying propaganda that we allowed to be imposed upon us as our real wages and benefits declined dramatically; while “our” country waged wars based entirely on lies around the planet, using as cannon fodder our children, forced into military service by an economic draft; as new robber barons arose, with wealth, and greed, shaming those of their 19th Century predecessors.
To anyone interested in issues such as these, I would suggest they read James Galvin’s “The Meadow” and “Fencing The Sky”, then tell me this land’s not valuable in situ.
Both should be required reading at UW as this is what Wyoming is throwing away; its heritage, and all for ” upscale” housing and “luxury” development.
There are better ways to fund an education. Besides, an education without knowledge gained and knowledge used is pointless.
Welcome to Laramie, California.
Read them for yourselves and then choose a better site.
The Meadow. An unforgettable book. I prefer solar over wind, solely for aesthetic reasons. This seems like a paltry return. Wyoming needs to rapidly shift from coal/gas industry to renewables to survive. Royalties will continue to dwindle. Renewable projects around the state could provide much-needed jobs for former coal/oil/gas workers.
They don’t actively recruit them though. So far, the wind projects I have seen are staffed by out-of-state or foreign nationals.
Galvin had a big problem with dumping of old appliances in that country and other irresponsible acts. I don’t think that wind turbines fall into that category. He provides a compelling and heart melting description of a period of time and the people in it. I don’t think he argues that pollution and emissions from burning fossil fuels serves people or wildlife better than renewable energy. As he describes the history, I don’t think he argues that we should become frozen in time, but rather move forward with thoughtfulness and respect for the world we live in. Trying to reduce global warming seems very consistent with Galvin’s reverence for the land and the people in it.
While I am ambivalent about such a large development near Laramie, particularly given its possible effects on wildlife, esp. bats, I am amused the campaign against the wind plant by rural landowners cites impacts on the “historic Ames Monument”. A reminder: the monument celebrates the Ames brothers. Congressman Oakes Ames was head of Crédit Mobilier of America, a corporation created by Union Pacific. It was established to defraud the federal government when billing for the cost of building the transcontinental railroad. Congressman Ames profited personally from the scam. He bribed colleagues in congress so would do favors for UP. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, he never went to jail. Our local historic monument celebrates a crook. It needs another plaque so that visitors and locals know this piece of corporate history.