SWEETWATER COUNTY -- Alternative power is in Sweetwater County's future.
The Sweetwater County Commission listened with interest Tuesday to a presentation from Sweetwater Solar LLC about building an 80-megawatt solar farm on a 703-acre piece of Bureau of Land Management land. This land is located along Highway 372 about 11 miles northwest of Green River.
Betsey Biesty, director of permitting for Hanwha Q Cells USA Corp, spoke about the proposed project. She said Sweetwater Solar is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hanwha Group, a South Korean company that has been in business since 1952.
The company submitted a right of way permit application to BLM in July. While the permitting process takes time, Biesty said other site permits, including a conditional-use permit with Sweetwater County, will be pursued concurrently. In addition, the company will seek public participation in the process.
Biesty noted no formal discussion has yet happened. However, two field surveys focused on sage grouse and a nearby antelope migration corridor to the west of the proposed solar farm site.
Commission Chairman Wally Johnson questioned the migration corridor, saying the only corridor he has knowledge of is the mule deer migration corridor located "no where near" this proposed site. He asked that such information be relayed to the commission, so quality progress would not be hindered in the area.
"Why Sweetwater County?" Commissioner John Kolb.
Ken Kostok, director of operations and maintenance with Hanwha, said it was simple -- Sweetwater County has the right land right here.
According to supporting materials provided by Biesty, the project would include:
• A main solar generation area which includes the photovoltaic arrays, combining switchgear and electrical substation
• Monitoring and maintenance facilities
• Access roads
• An underground electrical collection system linking to the project substation
• Security and fencing
In addition, a proposed overhead electrical line would run in a corridor about 2.5 miles long and not to exceed 50 feet wide. This would connect the proposed project to the existing Rocky Mountain Power Raven Substation and would be located on both private and public land administered by the Bureau of Reclamation and the BLM.
"When full operational, the 80-megawatt project would have the capacity to directly convert solar energy into electricity, while using minimal water and producing zero waste," the document states. "This would be the equivalent amount of energy needed to serve nearly 12,000 local Wyoming homes each year."
The project would have an expected life of 30 years, according to supporting documents.
Biesty said the heavy construction portion of the project is expected to take four to five months; the rest of the time would be filled with the permitting processes and the designing and engineering.
Additional studies and plans to be completed include an environmental review under the National Environmental Protection Agency to include a pygmy rabbit survey, spring nest surveys and a phase one environmental site assessment; a glare hazard analysis, visual simulations and a traffic study; and wildlife impact mitigation plan, reclamation and decommissioning plan, and a storm water pollution prevention plan.
Kostok said the facility, once completed, will be staffed with eight to 10 full-time employees.
Expected start time for pre-construction projects is March 2017, barring any delays with permitting, Biesty said. The entire project, once begun, will take about one year.
"Keep us appraised, through our staff, with what goes on with the BLM," Johnson said.
The commissioners voiced their excitement about the proposed project and had questions for the Hanwha representatives.
Commissioner Reid West asked what is done with the power. Kostok said it is converted to AC and will most likely be used by the mines in the area.
West also raised the question of mineral rights leased in the area. Biesty said there are no prior leases on the land.
Kolb said he conceptually likes the proposed solar project better than wind farms. Kostok agreed it is "less impactful" to the land and the wildlife.
West asked what would be done about dust accumulated on the arrays. Comstock said the wind typically takes care of much of the dust, and the plan is to wash the panels once or twice a year.