OSLI hears suggestionsWritten by Jennifer Womack
While some are calling it a “gold rush,” Karyn Coppinger of the newly-formed Wyoming Power Producers Association, said wind energy development won’t arrive as rapidly as some are predicting. Transmission, she said, will be the determining factor. Even if developments are years away, the leases that will guide those developments are being written quite rapidly. As with any new movement, those who oversee the drafting of the leases learn a little more each time the ink dries on a new agreement.
Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) leaders late July asked representatives of the state’s more traditional energy resources and the ranching community to offer suggestions on how the state could improve the leasing process on its lands. As of Aug. 1, 2009, according to Jim Arnold who oversees OSLI’s realty and farm loan division, the state had approved 19 wind leases on 45,052 acres of State Trust Land. Four of those leases are operational and four are in the permitting process. Each of the developments is a combination of state and private lands with the exception of two leases that are comprised of state and Bureau of Land Management properties. “Currently,” said Arnold, “OSLI is negotiating 33 lease applications totaling 271,496 acres.”
Wind energy developers are the latest in a series of resource users, including those who lease the land for grazing. OSLI Director Lynne Boomgaarden pointed out her agency’s fiduciary responsibility to enhance revenue streams from the state lands for the benefit of Wyoming school children. In meeting that goal, the agency embraces multiple uses. As was determined at the late July meeting, healthy lines of communication are imperative in ensuring compatibility where it’s possible.
As was pointed out by Marion Loomis of the Wyoming Mining Association, not all uses are compatible. Coppinger assured him that the wind industry has little interest in competing with fellow energy producers for resources. Mining projects in the reclamation phase could, however, according to Loomis be contoured in a manner to allow for future wind development.
Casper area rancher Doug Cooper said a wind energy developer has leased 900 acres of state land in two separate tracts he leases for grazing. In other areas where state lands have been developed Cooper said the landowner has most often been involved in the project. In his case, an adjacent landowner other than Cooper provided access to the parcel. “If our private lands were part of this project we would probably have some leverage in working out agreements with the wind developer,” said Cooper.
Commenting during the lease stage, according to Cooper, is difficult since a plan of development doesn’t exist at that juncture. He found the developer, having not yet completed all of the necessary studies, could answer very few questions and hadn’t visited the property at the time the lease was agreed upon.
According to OSLI representatives, ranchers have 90 days to reach a surface damage agreement before their agency will approve a developer’s project plan. Cooper suggested that the timeline be better defined to ensure good-faith negotiations. “There needs to be a formal process after a plan of development is submitted, but before dirt is moved,” said Cooper of what he said should be a formal hearing of the stakeholders. “That’s a point where you can really do some good. We have permitted improvements on these lands and it’s really difficult to protect those improvements without a formal point where you can address it.”
Cooper also suggested that landowners be allowed to negotiate damage payments on state leases that span the life of the project and account for the decommissioning of a project. Boomgaarden told him that long-term structuring of payments is a tool available to grazing leaseholders. Current state regulations call for a split in surface damage payments between the state and the leaseholder on a sliding scale based on the amount of money to be received.
Casper area rancher Bruce Bummer asked about roads created during construction and the public’s ability to access and utilize those roads. Boomgaarden said that short an official move to close the roads that they would be available for travel by the general public.
Scott Zimmerman, the Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union field representative for Wyoming, encouraged the agency to consider community scale wind projects on its properties that lie adjacent to cities and towns.
Coppinger said landowner support and involvement is essential to the success of any project. She said she was appalled to hear that the property Cooper referenced was leased sight unseen by a wind developer. It was suggested that Coppinger encourage the newly formed group of wind energy developers to develop a set of Best Management Practices for working with Wyoming landowners.
Boomgaarden committed her agency to considering the suggestions put forth at the gathering. While a follow-up meeting might be held, a timeline hasn’t yet been set.