“Don’t it always seem to go/That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” — Joni Mitchell/Big yellow Taxi (1970)
Albany County soon may learn exactly what singer songwriter Joni Mitchell meant when she penned these words 50 years ago.
If nothing is done, within a year heavy equipment will begin widening and straightening Cherokee Park and Monument Roads along the 287 corridor and adding about 52 miles of new roads. Eighteen-wheelers will climb the slope into the Sherman Hills toward Vedauwoo at I-80 carrying shafts, nacelles, and blades for 120 wind turbines, each more than 590 feet tall. Excavation and blasting will start, leading to pouring thousands of tons of concrete for an industrial facility spread across a 26,000-acre “project area”.
Quantum Energy Partners (“Quantum”), a Houston, Texas, oil and gas private equity firm, is promoting this “Rail Tie” project. Quantum has allocated a share of its 2018 “Quantum Energy Partners VII” fund to the Rail Tie wind project through a “clean energy” vehicle called “547Energy” and its subsidiary, “ConnectGEN” (which is operating through a Texas-registered entity, “ConnectGen Albany County LLC”). Investors in the Quantum Partners VII fund should be worried: According to Quantum’s ConnectGEN website, so far there’s not yet a customer for energy that might be produced by the Rail Tie wind project. The electricity markets in the West are saturated with 4 times the supply over demand, as the Wyoming Legislature recently heard from Kara Choquette, a representative of the Chokecherry Sierra Madre project near Rawlins.
The history, too, suggests that the Rail Tie project may be a disaster for Quantum investors: In 2014, Shell WindEnergy abandoned what was then called the “Hermosa West” project at the same location. One could surmise that even with less opposition seven years ago, Shell correctly concluded that wind development in this location was not in its nor its shareholders’ interest.
All of this, of course, offers hope for Albany County: With any luck, and if Quantum is true to the interests of its investors, it will close down the Rail Tie development and deploy investors’ capital in more productive efforts. So far, though, Quantum seems to be pursuing this development aggressively, and with potentially disastrous immediate and long-term impact on Wyoming’s open spaces, wildlife, and economy.
Sadly, local and state officials seem to be supporting Quantum’s efforts. After initially declining ConnectGen’s application to lease state land for the Rail Tie project, the State Board of Land Commissioners (SBLC) reversed itself and approved the lease. Astonishingly, existing state wind leases (per the website of the State Land and Investments Board) have produced all of $12 per acre per year. The rest of this proposed project will be on private land, where a handful of our fellow citizens, who for the most part do not live on the land leased for wind energy production, hope to be cashing royalty checks for a slight percentage of the value of the generated energy. All while trashing the property rights of their many neighbors and the habitat of the elk, mule deer, pronghorn, raptors, and other area wildlife. Ironically, industrializing this area does not change the tax yield, the state lands will still be taxed as ranch land (a pittance compared to industrial tax), even though the use has changed to industrial.
Not surprisingly this project has been met with determined resistance from local residents. The group, Albany County for Smart Energy Development (ACSED), has filed an appeal of the state’s lease approval. Frankly, ACSED is geared up to fight this project passionately and for the long term. The group is disappointed in the SBLC’s reconsideration and change in their decision, and believes that an industrial facility is incompatible in this location due to the county’s existing plans. Albany County’s Comprehensive Plan designated this area as a “Priority Growth Area” which has been used as necessary incentive to attract business professionals and University of Wyoming professors for over a decade. Industrializing this area will have harmful impacts over the short- and long-term on community growth, economic recruitment, wildlife, and other natural and cultural resources, including the Ames Monument, listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
The Laramie Basin in Albany County shouldn’t be sacrificed to the royalty-check ambitions of a handful of our landowners, and their government-subsidized wind-energy paymasters. The County should encourage wind development in wind-friendly plains landscapes and keep it out of areas in which it will have such huge negative impacts on the environment and our community.