The Saratoga Sun -

Wind winds up again


Saratoga Sun staff photo

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Wednesday released a second environmental assessment for the first phase of a proposed Carbon County wind farm. The BLM also issued a draft finding stating it did not expect significant environmental impacts beyond those outlined in the environmental assessment.

The environmental assessment released by the BLM evaluates the impact of Power Company of Wyoming's (PCW) proposed Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind energy project, which the company said would be the largest wind farm in North America.

The first phase of the development is expected to be spread over about 75,000 acres of land south of Rawlins, with windmills occupying 849 acres, according to a release by PCW. The site is a mix of BLM-managed land, state-owned land, and private property.

An environmental impact statement released by the BLM and approved by the U.S. Secretary of Interior in 2012 included environmental concerns about the impact the proposed wind farm would have on bats and birds of prey, including eagles. As a result, the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and PCW conducted studies of raptor nests and bat activity. The data collected were used to develop mitigation plans to reduce the negative impact on raptors and bats.

According to the findings released by BLM, the first phase of the project will require an eagle take permit. Eagle take permits are issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when eagles are expected to be killed or disturbed. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, such permits may be issued in certain situations, including infrastructure development, road construction and other commercial or economic activities.

According to the release by the BLM, the project is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs, and more than 100 permanent jobs in operations and maintenance. The BLM also said the wind farm would generate $300 million in property taxes during the first 20 years of its existence.

PCW estimates that the wind farm will contribute $232 million in sales taxes and another $170 million in state wind energy tax.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, wind energy capacity increased 13 percent in 2015, and is expected to grow by 9 percent in 2016 and by 8 percent in 2017.

In a 2012 study conducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that studied the economic impacts of wind farms in rural areas, the researchers found a county-level increase in personal income by $11,000 per year for every megawatt of installed capacity.

The first phase of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre project would have a capacity of 1,500 megawatts. Annually, it is estimated that it would produce 6 million megawatt-hours of electrical power per year, according to PCW. Once both phases are completed, the output of the wind farm will be enough to power about 1 million homes, the BLM said on its website.

When both phases of the project are complete, the 220,000-acre wind farm have 1,000 wind turbines, according to a release by the BLM.

The BLM will be holding two open houses in Carbon County to allow members of the public to ask questions or express concerns. The first will be held in Saratoga on between 4:30-6:30 p.m. March 28 at Saratoga Town Hall. The second open house will be held in from 4:30-6:30 March 29 in Rawlins p.m. at The Jeffrey Center, 315 W. Pine St.


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