Ground breaking on CCSM wind farm imminent
By David Louis
RAWLINS — It may not seem like much, but a simple public notice recently issued by the Wyoming Industrial Siting Division indicates that construction on the Power Company of Wyoming’s (PCW) Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project (CCSM) may soon begin.
As the primary state regulatory agency for wind farms with 30 turbines or more, the ISD and its Industrial Siting Council (ISC) has announced intentions to move forward with consideration of the request, said Kimber Wichmann, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Industrial Siting Division, principal economist.
“PCW wanted to give us an updated construction schedule,” Wichmann said. “Basically, they’ve been able to move forward on some of their federal permitting, which is great and they wanted to let us know that they are planning on starting construction this year. ”
Wichmann said the updated construction schedule is required under two conditions of its ISC permit.
“They have two conditions on their permit,” Wichmann said. “One is that they had to start construction within three years (of the ISC permit) and the other said that at anytime they change their construction schedule, they had to alert us.”
Receiving its ISC permit in September 2014, PCW is still within the three-year timeframe for beginning construction, but when they submitted their permit application, the anticipated start date was set for fourth quarter 2014.
“What they were updating us with now is their intention to start construction this summer,” Wichmann said.
While chasing local, state and federal permits has taken nine years, the final hurdle to clear the way for construction to begin on the wind farm is the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) right-of-way permit for infrastructure portions of the project’s first phase of construction.
The BLM permit is expected to be issued sometime in the next 30-60 days, but with a project that has been nearly 10 years in its permitting process, delays are possible.
“It’s amazing what PCW has gone through,” Wichmann said, “and we know PCW is chomping at the bit to get things finally going.”
Although from inception to pending construction the project has moved at the pace of government, there only are few loose ends to tie up, said Bill Miller, PCW president and CEO.
“A few more things must fall into place regarding final federal authorizations, but we believe we will receive those in time to make it possible to start construction by the end of the year,” Miller said. “We’re planning to begin by building the internal haul road that will be necessary to construct, operate and maintain this wind energy project.”
The two-phase development proposes to build 1,000 wind turbines on 219,707 acres south of Rawlins.
Phase I consists of the construction of the first 500 wind turbines, arterial and access roads, power lines, power transfer facilities, construction staging areas, and other project infrastructure.
Phase I development area includes approximately 75,000 acres of private, state and federal land. However, long-term surface disturbance will only be about 849 acres, or 1.1 percent.
The wind farm is located approximately five miles south of Rawlins on the Overland Trail Ranch. The 320,000-acre working cattle ranch is owned or leased by the Overland Trail Cattle Company — a subsidiary of the project’s parent company the Anschutz Corp.
The ranch is comprised of private, state and federal land located in the checkerboard of Wyoming.
When completed, the $5 billion Chokecherry Sierra Madre project will producing up to 3,000 megawatts of clean energy, making it arguably the largest wind farm in the world.
“The main work we think that could begin by the end of the year is on the haul road, which is the main project access point through the Overland Ranch, said Kara Choquette, PCW communications director. “This is the main way the turbines will be delivered for placement throughout the site.”
Haul Road and Facilities for Phase I
The haul road and facilities for Phase I includes the CCSM Project's 32-mile primary road system, certain arterial and facility access roads totaling 25 miles, as well as three water stations, one water extraction facility and five laydown yards.
The internal haul road begins at the northern project entrance where it connects to County Road 407 after which the road then travels west, connecting to the west Sinclair rail facility, and finally travels south through the center of the Chokecherry wind development area into Sage Creek Basin and the Sierra Madre wind development area.
The only location where the haul road would intersect public roads is a single crossing of County Road 401, also known as Sage Creek Road.
West Sinclair Rail Facility
The west Sinclair rail facility consists of a rail connection to the Union Pacific Railroad mainline between Rawlins and Sinclair and an associated laydown yard to receive, temporarily stage, and deliver components and construction-related materials.
The rail facility connects with the internal CCSM Project haul road and is designed to minimize impacts to public roadways, provide more cost effective transportation, and promote efficient project construction activities.
The 14 miles of track feature a wye, a lead track, a running track, a loop track and several unloading areas.
Road Rock Quarry
Located at the site of an existing quarry, approximately two miles south of Rawlins, the road rock quarry would provide road construction material for the CCSM Project.
The quarry would improve the efficiency of the project by decreasing the number of train and truck trips from off-site quarries necessary for road base aggregate.
Activities at the quarry would involve surface rock mining and processing of sandstones and shales. The quarry, proposed to be approximately 120 acres of operations area, includes the excavation area, material processing area, material storage piles and the five mile Quarry Road.
“When it does happen, the start of Phase I triggers the end of the beginning — well sort of,” said Choquette.
“It’s an overall eight year construction schedule,” she said, “with a fairly small workforce in the beginning. It won’t really ramp up for a couple of years until the time comes when we can start installing the wind turbines on the site.”
Depending on the activities at the CCSM Project the workforce is anticipated to experience ebbs and flows during the construction period, with peak employment of 945 during July and August 2019.
When construction is finished the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project will employ 114 full-time workers.