Turbine turbulence: Residents continue legal battle against Rail Tie Wind Project
By Abby Vander Graaff
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE – In another step in a years-long battle over the proposed Rail Tie Wind Project, some area residents are making their case to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The Albany County District Court upheld an Albany County Commission on March 30 decision to grant a permit to ConnectGen, the company leading the project. Known as a Wind Energy Conservation System (WECS) permit, the decision gives ConnectGen the go-ahead to move forward with its wind farm project, which is in planning and permitting stages with construction slated to begin in spring 2023.
About 45 people with interests against the wind farm have signed onto a second appeals process filed last week to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Monaghan Farms Inc. also filed its own separate appeal.
The 500-megawatt project calls for up to 149 turbines on 26,000 acres of public and private land south of Laramie near Tie Siding. It will tie into the Ault-Craig 345-kilovolt transmission line, which runs through the southern part of the project area.
Noise, light pollution and impacts to wildlife and the natural beauty of the area are among the concerns brought by opponents, many of whom own property near the proposed area for the wind farm, which will be located on private and state lands along Highway 287 south of Laramie near Tie Siding.
“Albany County residents felt strongly that their (county commissioners’) decision was not based on protecting county residents or Albany County’s natural resources, but were rather motivated by quick tax revenue and political motives,” said Paul Montoya, who is part of the appeals process. “We feel confident the Wyoming Supreme Court will see the errors in the county’s decision-making process and uphold our appeal.”
The WECS permit includes nine conditions that are meant to address concerns for residents surrounding the wind farm, said Amanda Flores, manager for the project for ConnectGen.
These include installing fire suppression systems on the turbines; increasing the distance between turbines, residences and public roads; and installing an aircraft detection lighting system to reduce light pollution.
The project has already received necessary state permits and has completed an environmental impact statement. Final engineering and pre-construction planning will continue throughout this year, with construction set to begin next spring.
According to the schedule, the wind farm would be fully operational by the end of 2024.
“This isn’t about ‘not in our backyard,’ it’s about respecting the safety of local residents,” said Tie Siding homeowner Andrew Grant. “We’re here, we’re paying our taxes. We expect to be looked after.”
Grant said that while he supports green energy, he has many concerns about the location of the wind project being in such close proximity to people who live nearby.
Living in the forest, Grant and other residents voiced concerns about increased fire danger and lighting strikes with the roughly 600-foot-tall turbines. While the turbines won’t be visible from many houses in the area, residents will be forced to drive past them along Cherokee Park Road, the main route in and out of the area.
“What they are trying to do is turn our trip to the grocery store into a game of Russian roulette, as far as we’re concerned,” Grant said of the risk of ice shards falling from turbines.
Modern wind turbines are equipped with an ice detection system that causes the turbines to stop spinning if ice build-up is detected on the blades, according to the ConnectGen website.
In addition to quality-of-life concerns, some residents cited concerns with what they considered to be an insufficient public input process from the Albany County Commission.
“It’s been a frustrating experience to be given three minutes to verbally address something that’s a complicated process, and then have not any questions asked back,” said Al Minier, who owns a second home 8 miles south of Tie Siding. “Part of this fight is based on the fact that I think the scrutiny given to wind projects is really not adequate.”
Mitchell Edwards of Nicholas & Tangeman LLC is representing the opponents. He claims the county failed to follow its own regulations in gathering information on the Rail Tie project and didn’t give adequate public notice before meetings in which the project was discussed.
“I can’t think of any point in this process where anyone from the project has reached out to me and asked for my concerns,” Minier said.
The Albany County Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on the appeal by press time.
“We believe the District Court correctly concluded that the Albany County Commissioners properly granted the WECS permit in accordance with the applicable regulations and hope the Wyoming Supreme Court will reach the same conclusion,” Flores said.
The court will have 120-180 days to issue a written decision on the appeal after undergoing a multi-step process of hearing arguments from both sides. Typically, the appeals process takes between a year and 18 months, Edwards said.