Letter to Albany County Commissioners
[February 8th 2020] —
My name is Alan Minier. My wife Muffy and I own a house and 140 acres at Bobcat Ridge Road, off of Boulder Ridge Road. The house was completed in 2008, and we spend about half of our time there.
I want to talk to you about having a the planning process for the Rail Tie Wind project. I first need to explain some of my background, so that you may judge for yourself whether I have an adequate foundation for the opinions I wish to share with you.
I am a retired attorney. I studied public administration at Yale University and administrative law at Harvard Law School. My first job was as counsel for the Old West Regional Commission, a federally created and federally funded multi-state regional economic planning and development commission. From there, I moved to Wyoming to join Governor Ed Herschler’s staff in the State Planning Coordinator’s office. During that time, I was member of the team that negotiated with the Federal Office of Surface Mining over the adequacy of proposed regulations for the Department of Environmental Quality’s Land Quality Division. I was thereafter in private law practice for 22 years, with an administrative law emphasis. Representative clients included ARCO Coal, Shell Mining, Fort Union Coal Company, General Chemical (Soda Ash) Partners, and AT&T. Governor Freudenthal appointed me to the Wyoming State Board of Equalization in 2003; I served as Chairman for most of my tenure (2003-2008). Before I retired, I was Chairman of the Wyoming Public Service Commission (2008-2017). To ice the cake, my wife was a Teton County Commissioner from 1977 to 1983.
One of the most important features of planning for large projects is to clearly identify the project so that conflicts with competing public and private interests can be identified. In doing so, it often becomes possible to tailor or redefine the project in a way that, in whole or in part, accommodates conflicting interests and serves the public interest as a whole.
As things now stand, the project is essentially defined by its output, 504 megawatts, rather than by the specific facilities to be constructed. My understanding is that ConnectGen reserves for its own determination, following completion of the draft EIS, the identification of such essential elements as the use of either 82 6-MW turbines or 151 3-MW turbines, as well as reserving for later determination the placement of turbines within a commensurately large footprint.
At 675 feet, the 6-MW turbines are simply monstrous: taller than four copies of the Wyoming State Capitol stacked on top of one another; 170 feet taller than the Washington Monument; nearly as tall as one of the supporting towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. One or two 6-MW turbines would cause alarm if placed in or near Laramie. These concerns do not diminish when placed in close proximity to a populated rural area such as Boulder Ridge.
The precise conflicts with Boulder Ridge property owners, Tie Siding businesses, or other interests in the area cannot be assessed without a statement of the planned equipment. Based on the facility permitting processes that are common in Wyoming, I would expect to see a specific proposal for at least: the dimensions of the turbines that will be used; the exact location of each turbine; the elevation of each turbine (the valley is not flat); and the operating characteristics of the turbines. Visual impacts and noise impacts cannot be estimated without such information.
In Wyoming permitting practice, an application that does not include sufficient pertinent information is customarily deemed incomplete and hence not ripe for consideration. In my opinion, the planning commission should defer any proceedings until the specific project proposal is available for review.
There are a number of warning signs that ConnectGen and WAPA are more interested in brushing aside citizen opposition than in having the patience to reach the optimal public interest result that would follow a fair planning process. Speedy approvals may save cost for the project proponents, but they tend to minimize the opportunity for adversely affected parties to analyze and react to the project.
ConnectGen and WAPA are in a great hurry to secure approvals for their scheme. One argument they appear to offer is that the sooner the project is approved, the sooner tax revenues can begin flowing into the coffers of Albany County. I have heard similar arguments many times over the past fifty years, and will only suggest that the failure to fully think through a project –in advance of construction– commonly leads to expensive errors and bitter long-term conflict.
There do not seem to be any operational personnel associated with the project planning. This hinders any assessment of operations problems that can occur after construction, such as the impact of infrasound and low frequency noise. It also appears that 6 MW turbines are not commonly in use in onshore locations.
What could go wrong as a result? The permit could be granted and the turbines could be constructed before the operational problems surfaced, leaving the county and its residents little or no leverage to foster a cure.
Correspondence from WAPA to me indicates that it and ConnectGen intend to rely on wildlife information, including previous consultations with state and federal agencies, that is ten years old. I disagree that this data is reliable. The pine beetle has wrought great changes since then, opening up the forest and thereby increasing the number of birds and the volume of animal traffic. I note also that WAPA did not address my request to disclose the scope of ConnectGen’s recent contractor survey activity.
Finally, Mr. Wieringa of WAPA has seen fit to offer me some advice about the limits of the authority of the Industrial Siting Council. I have spent a substantial portion of my professional lifetime disagreeing with federal government agencies over how Wyoming should conduct its affairs, and think he would do better to stick to what he knows.
If the planning commission proceeds with consideration of the project as it is merely conceived, ConnectGen and WAPA will be offering you a false choice: 504 MW or none. Instead, you should be considering what scale project (if any) can reasonably be constructed in the proposed footprint, consistent with the interests of the parties that the project will affect. You cannot do that without specific information about turbines, locations, elevations, etc., and certain additional information about roads and other support facilities that will follow from the identification of turbine locations. I urge to you to so advise ConnectGen and WAPA, and the Albany County Commissioners.
Based on my experience as a state agency head, the conclusions you will reach at the end of a fair process will likely not satisfy everyone, but your attentive concern for the interests of all can go a long way to achieving a result that is broadly acceptable.