CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s wind energy capacity is set to double in the coming years, as developments of various sizes spring up throughout the state.
Rocky Mountain Power is developing four wind farms in Wyoming to be finished by 2021, and progress continues on the $5 billion Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy projects in Carbon County. Chokecherry is expected to raise about $850 million in state tax revenues once completed.
Due to the region’s high prairies and long ridges, Wyoming is an ideal spot for wind development, although there’s been some debate about how and where to best utilize the energy.
Some of these discussions were recently highlighted in Cheyenne, where city employees, elected officials and environmental activists are at an impasse over what to do with Roundhouse Renewable Energy funds.
The $335 million project would cover 30,000 acres of public and private Laramie County land for wind development to power 70,000 northern Colorado customers. The power would be sold to Platte River Power Authority, a Colorado-based energy company.
Most of the roughly 100 turbines will be built on the city-owned Belvoir Ranch; the Cheyenne City Council recently expanded its lease with NextEra Energy for use of 16,700 acres.
The city purchased Belvoir in 2003 for $5.9 million as a possible landfill. Years later, officials drew up a master plan that included new walking and mountain bike trail systems, a campground and picnic areas at the site. These plans were stalled for financial reasons, and the land is still inaccessible.
Although recreation enthusiasts said the turbines would be unattractive and potentially dangerous to hikers and bikers, they were in strong support of using NextEra lease payments for recreation development – something that many hope is a silver lining. This could be the key to finally moving forward with the Belvoir Master Plan.
“(NextEra) would build roads to get their towers in there, and we may be able to use those roads,” Cheyenne Councilman Rocky Case said. “It might also reduce the cost of the plan overall.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Roundhouse Renewable Energy Project director, said the project would generate about $39 million in property taxes over the 30-year project’s lease term. Payments to private landowners could exceed $60 million.
“This does not interfere with recreation,” he said. “If the city decided to open it to the public and have recreational trails, it will work with our project.”
It’s just one of many ways cities throughout the state may benefit from wind energy, according to Cheyenne Councilman Scott Roybal.
He drafted a failed resolution to dedicate all Roundhouse funds to recreation at Belvoir.
Others said they wanted a cut of the money, including officials with the city’s public works department and the Board of Public Utilities – both of which helped pay for the land in 2003 – which led the council to kill the resolution in favor of more work sessions.
Many said the new recreation could be an economic driver for Laramie County, providing more opportunities for marathons, bike races and other events. It could also connect athletes to large swaths of open space without the hassle of traveling to Colorado.
“Regardless of how things turn out, money like this shouldn’t be taken lightly,” said Lynne Barnes, who leads regional biking clubs. “We’ve needed access to Belvoir for decades, and this is our chance to do it.”