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February 17, 2009 4:03 am

Heart Mountain Wind farm feasibility appraised

Written by Tribune Staff

It was a windy meeting for Heart Mountain Irrigation District landowners Wednesday, but it wasn't a blustery debate, just a look at wind farm options and profit potential, presented by a man with experience dealing with wind power developers.

Jim Rogers of Laramie, chairman of Windy Ranches Association LLC., has been conferring with wind developers the last few years, aiming to strike the best deal possible with a wind developer and thus provide wind-blown returns for a group of 10 landowners comprising more than 70,000 acres in the Laramie area.

The point of Rogers' presentation was to not to allow a wind developer to call the shots, but to put Heart Mountain Irrigation District stake-holders in the driver's seat.

“So you can be price-makers, not price-takers,” Rogers said.

While the entire site is under development, the district can levy from $4 to $8 per acre, Rogers said.

That would encompass the entire district. Heart Mountain Irrigation District oversees about 31,000 acres of irrigable land.

Once the turbines begin turning, the price per acre terminates and a new formula is hatched.

With 75 towers, Rogers said the district could yield $5,000 to $6,000 per tower.

Crunching Rogers' numbers, that is $375,000 to $450,000 per year.

Wind farms have a 20-year life span, so a contract with a developer would be up for renewal in 20 years. Negotiations for another 20 years would be likely, Rogers said.

If all district users are in accord, all could be in for a windfall.

Rogers said in some associations, all those involved get some money whether the turbines are on their property or not. For example, those with turbines could receive 60 percent of the return, with the remaining 40 percent receiving the rest, but that would be up to the district to decide.

Developers will pay for the construction of turbines and in some cases, the transmission of the power. In other scenarios, transmission line builders erect the power lines, charging the power generators for space to transport the juice, Rogers said.

Rogers said if you send 50 requests for proposals to potential developers, expect 15 replies. Of that 15, six or seven will likely show real interest.
He encouraged shopping around.

Rogers said to negotiate an annual fee for wind turbine access roads and make sure the developer controls weeds, plants and native vegetation for five years.

And demand the developer maintains the county roads while they are hauling the heavy turbine components to the sites.

The ideal wind is 18-23 mph, but the Heart Mountain anemometer averages 16 mph. But that may be doable.

“You're right in there,” Rogers said.

The anemometer is 50 meters tall or 164 feet. Standard turbines stand 200 feet.

Rogers said wind speed increases with height.

“Two hundred feet, you may be at 18, 19, 20 (mph),” Rogers said.

The Obama administration promotes green energy, and may offer incentives to wind power by fronting up to 30 percent of the initial cost, Rogers said.

Southeastern Wyoming is No. 1 in the nation for wind, but it has a drawback.

At the Arlington wind farm, about 40 miles northwest of Laramie, the turbines must be turned out of the wind when it exceeds 50-60 mph. Rogers calls it “shear factor” — when the overbearing breeze can actually tear up the turbine.

Before wind-borne enthusiasm soars to whirlwind proportions, it may behoove enthusiasts to appraise wildlife.

Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist and executive director of Biodiversity and Conservation Alliance in Laramie, would not recommend wind turbines in the Heart Mountain area, chiefly because of sage grouse.

Heart Mountain has a bird conservation area. There are raptors and bats that could become tangled in turbine blades, Molvar said.

“But the sage grouse are the biggest concern for that area,” Molvar said.

There are sage grouse leks, or breeding grounds, around Heart Mountain and it is one of Gov. Dave Freudenthal's sage grouse core areas, Molvar said.

Wyoming is the last stronghold for sage grouse.

“Make sure you keep them,” Molvar said.

On the other hand, the folks in Heart Mountain District could overlook wildlife concerns or decide to mitigate on their own terms.

“The landowner has broad authority to manage their property as they see fit,” Molvar said.

Rogers said the state of Wyoming is amiable to wind farms on its land, but the Bureau of Land Management is not so agreeable because of National Environmental Policy Act requirements.

It could take five or six years from the time RFPs are sent and the turbines spin, Rogers said. But, it allows landowners to keep farming/ranching and to keep their children on the land, Rogers said.

“I think this is a win-win for our country and a win-win for agriculture,” Rogers said.

Rogers was enthusiastic.

“I would say go for it,” he said.