Final project approval is expected in early April, says Walt George, project leader at the US Bureau of Land Management. The go-ahead has already been given by the state and county. The site is sprawled over 60,619 acres under various types of ownership. If built, the wind farm will be the first in the high Rocky Mountains. Kenetech first applied for the federal permit in 1993.
The project is being watched closely because of financial troubles at Kenetech Corp that have led the San Francisco-based company to consider bankruptcy. The company has also faced widespread technical problems in the Model KVS-33 that would be installed at the Carbon County site on the Foote Creek Rim between Rawlins and Laramie. Kenetech president Richard Saunders was not available to comment on what the project's fate will mean for his company.
A meeting between the utilities that would own the project, scheduled for March 20 in Portland, was delayed until April. Questions were sure to have surfaced about Kenetech's financial viability. PacifiCorp of Portland will be the majority owner. A minority will be owned by Public Service Co of Colorado, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Eugene Water & Electric Board. A grant of some $3 million was also awarded to the project under the President's Energy Partnerships for a Strong Economy Programme, it was announced in September.
The issue of bird kills has been raised by federal biologists, who are recommending the project proceed. The US Fish & Wildlife Dept has refused to exempt the project from the Endangered Species Act, but is allowing one "incidental take" each of bald eagles and peregrine falcons a year for the first phase. That means the deaths will not be prosecuted. If that number of kills is exceeded, a technical advisory committee established for the project will probably review the matter to see what mitigation measures can be taken, says George.
Populations of these so-called "sensitive species" are present but not abundant. In comparison, five to 15 golden eagles are found dead along the nearby Interstate 80, local investor Bruce Morley, who owns the private land that is part of the wind plant site, told the Denver Post newspaper. The plant was to have been completed this summer, federal officials said last year, some six to eight months after a permit issue was expected. Each phase of the planned 500 MW must be independently reviewed by the federal government.