Get the Facts
Learn more about the Rail Tie Wind Project here! Below are answers to some of the most-asked questions about wind energy and the Rail Tie Wind Project.
ConnectGen is a renewable energy company comprised of seasoned energy industry professionals focused on developing wind, solar, and energy storage projects across the United States.
Launched in 2018 by private equity firm Quantum Energy Partners, a leading provider of private equity capital to the global energy industry, ConnectGen draws from its extensive experience developing renewable energy and infrastructure projects across the United States. In total, the ConnectGen team has managed the development, financing, construction, and operation of thousands of megawatts (MW) of wind and solar energy across the United States.
The Rail Tie Wind Project is a proposed 504 megawatt wind project in southeastern Albany County. The project will be located on private and state land near Highway 287 outside of Tie Siding and is anticipated to be operational by the end of 2022. Depending on the wind turbine model that is ultimately selected, the project will include between 84 and 151 turbines.
ConnectGen has executed wind leases with landowners for the Rail Tie Wind Project and has begun environmental and technical studies of the project area. ConnectGen is coordinating with the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) on its studies of the project’s interconnection to its transmission system. The ConnectGen team has begun stakeholder outreach and engagement, which will continue as the project begins various permitting processes.
The Rail Tie Wind Project will undergo review at the federal, state and county levels. At the federal level, WAPA has initiated its environmental review of the Project by publishing a Notice of Intent in December 2019. WAPA will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Project, and anticipates publishing a draft Environmental Impact Statement by the end of 2020, publishing the final EIS in mid-2021, and publishing its Record of Decision by fall 2021. Information and updates about WAPA’s process can be found on their website at: https://www.wapa.gov/transmission/EnvironmentalReviewNEPA/ Pages/rail-tie-wind-project.aspx.
The Project will also undergo state and county permitting processes, which ConnectGen anticipates beginning at the end of 2020.
ConnectGen expects to start construction of the Rail Tie Wind Project in the second half of 2021 with a goal to begin operations by the end of 2022.
The Project is located in Albany County, WY near Tie Siding. Click here to download a map of the Project Area.
ConnectGen identified the Rail Tie Wind Project location through a screening exercise that started with the entire U.S. mountain west region, and iteratively narrowed down on areas that were suitable for wind development. Throughout 2019, ConnectGen performed environmental diligence studies and met with federal, state and local agencies to confirm that the selected site was appropriate for developing a utility-scale wind project.
The project location has one of the best wind resources in the western United States and avoids highly sensitive environmental areas in Wyoming. Importantly, the project will use the Western Area Power Administration’s existing high voltage transmission line that crosses through the project area, thereby avoiding the impacts of constructing significant new transmission infrastructure.
The Rail Tie Wind Project will be a total capital investment of more than $500 million in Albany County. The project will benefit the County by generating $130 million in new tax revenues, creating jobs, and increasing demand for local businesses.
During construction, the Rail Tie Wind Project will contribute approximately $14.6 million in sales and use taxes to Albany County. For comparison, this is equal to 80% of all sales and uses taxes distributed to Albany County in 2018. During operations, the project will provide a steady stream of tax revenues to the County, averaging $3.3 million per year over the 35-year project life. This amount includes sales and use taxes, wind excise taxes, and property taxes.
Additionally, approximately 20% of the project area is sited on state land. The project will pay annual wind lease payments to the Office of State Lands and Investments, which funds Wyoming’s public schools and institutions.
During construction, the Rail Tie Wind Project will support approximately 500 construction jobs, 100 of which are estimated to be filled by Wyoming residents. These construction workers will drive local economic development through increased demand for supply chain businesses, hospitality services, and other local businesses. The project will generate at least 20 permanent operations jobs, which provide well-paying opportunities for young people to remain living and working in Wyoming.
- Identify all public roads that will be used during construction and operation of the project;
- Obtain access permits and utility crossing permits from Albany County;
- Perform a traffic study of any public roads leading to and away from the project;
- Submit a mitigation plan and/or long-term road maintenance agreement with Albany County.
- A pre-construction survey to determine the existing road conditions;
- Financial assurance, secured prior to the issuance of a certificate, in an amount necessary to repair any damage to public roads caused by construction or operations; and
- The requirement that ConnectGen return all public roads and other infrastructure to their original or better condition at the end of the project’s life.
The Rail Tie Wind Project will benefit neighboring landowners by providing vital tax dollars that are necessary for Albany County to provide infrastructure, road maintenance, fire protection, law enforcement, and other services to its rural residents. The tax dollars paid by rural residential developments do not currently cover the County’s cost of providing these services to them, sometimes resulting in limited protections.
From the Albany County Comprehensive Plan: “In recent years, the county has also begun to experience the conversion of agricultural lands to rural residential uses. The County has experienced difficulty providing services to new developments that are extremely remote… Although residential land is taxed at a higher rate than agricultural lands, the County’s current tax structure and permitting system do not require remote developments to pay the full additional cost of providing services to them.” 2
From the Albany County Code of the West: “All county residents pay taxes to the county government in exchange for provision of services. However, the revenue collected from rural residential developments does not cover the cost of services provided to rural residents. In general, city residents and rural agricultural producers subsidize the lifestyle of rural residents by making up the shortfall between the cost of services and revenues received from rural dwellers.” 3
The Rail Tie Wind Project is a separate project from the Hermosa wind project, which was under active development by Shell Wind Energy until 2013 when Shell exited the wind development business. Although the Rail Tie Wind Project does include several of the same landowners that were included in the Hermosa project, the Rail Tie Wind Project will undergo its own federal, state and local environmental review processes and ConnectGen is performing surveys and studies to support these reviews.
ConnectGen is responsible for the removal of the project at the end of the project’s life. Prior to starting construction, ConnectGen is required to put financial security in place to ensure that the landowners and community will bear no responsibility for removal or restoration.
Albany County and the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council require that ConnectGen provide a project decommissioning and reclamation plan prior to the start of construction. The decommissioning and reclamation plan will detail how ConnectGen will safely and responsibly remove the project infrastructure and restore the project area as close as possible to its prior condition. Additionally, prior to starting construction ConnectGen will be required to provide financial assurances sufficient for complete decommissioning and reclamation of the project at the end of its useful life. The amount of financial assurance will be determined by a third-party engineer and will be re-estimated and adjusted every five years. This financial assurance will remain in place even if ownership of the Project changes. Furthermore, the project will implement various best management practices and environmental protection measures to ensure avoidance, minimization, and mitigation of potential impacts during all phases of the project, including decommissioning.
At this early stage of development, ConnectGen has not yet secured a customer for the project’s wind generation. ConnectGen must secure a customer for the project before it can begin construction.
When the wind blows past a wind turbine, its blades capture the wind’s energy and rotate, turning the wind’s kinetic energy into mechanical energy. Inside the wind turbine, this rotation turns an internal shaft connected to a gearbox, which then spins a generator that produces electricity. The wind turbine will rotate to face the strongest wind and will angle its blades to best capture the wind energy.4
ConnectGen is considering a number of potential turbine models for the Rail Tie Wind Project and will ultimately select the best technology that is suitable for the Project area. At this point in the Project’s development, it is too soon to know which specific turbine model will be used; however, ConnectGen is working with top tier turbine manufacturers (Vestas, GE and Siemens Gamesa) to determine which options would be appropriate for the Project site. At the smaller end, ConnectGen is considering a turbine with a 3 megawatt (MW) nameplate capacity and a total height of 500 ft. At the upper end, ConnectGen is considering a turbine with a 6 MW nameplate capacity and a total height of 675 ft. ConnectGen is also considering a number of turbine models that fall within this range.
The wind industry is trending towards larger, more efficient turbines, which is a positive trend because it means that wind projects require fewer turbines and less ground disturbance to produce more energy.
The wind turbines that will be used for the Rail Tie Wind Project are designed for on land use. ConnectGen is considering turbine models between approximately 500 and 675 ft tall (measured from the base of the tower to the tip of the blade). Technological advances over several decades have resulted in taller towers, longer blades and improved turbine efficiencies. While the underlying technology that has been used for over 30 years remains the same, these taller turbines and longer blades now allow for an exponential increase in output with fewer turbines, which decreases the footprint of wind projects.
Increased wind turbine height is an industry-wide trend, and ConnectGen is not alone in considering taller turbine technology. In 2018 and 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)* reviewed and approved applications for 2,997 land-based wind turbines with a maximum tip height of 650 feet or greater spread across 28 states. An additional 3,488 planned wind turbine locations with a tip height of 650 feet or greater are under FAA review as of April 2020. The Big Level Wind Farm, which is using wind turbines with a tip height of 654.5 feet, went into operation in December 2019. By the time the Rail Tie Wind Project begins construction in the second half of 2021, this taller turbine technology will be even more commonplace.
*The FAA is the sole government agency that can determine no hazard for purpose of aircraft safety, as such each proposed wind turbine location for any wind project in the United States must receive FAA approval in order to be constructed.
At this stage of development, ConnectGen has not yet determined the final turbine locations. The locations will be informed by the environmental, cultural and other resources identified through WAPA’s environmental review of the project; WAPA expects to publish its draft Environmental Impact Statement by the end of 2020. Additionally, the turbine locations will depend on which turbine model ConnectGen ultimately selects for the project, since the spacing requirements between turbines depends on the turbine’s dimensions. As a general rule of thumb, the distance between turbines within a string is typically equal to 3 times the rotor diameter, and the distance between turbine strings is typically equal to 10 times the rotor diameter. ConnectGen is considering turbine models with rotor diameters between approximately 415 ft and 560 ft.
To support WAPA’s review of the project, ConnectGen has developed 1,000-foot wide turbine siting corridors within which turbines could be located. A map of these turbine siting corridors can be downloaded here.
Wind turbines typically operate at wind speeds between 3 meters per second (7 miles per hour) and 27 meters per second (60 miles per hour). ConnectGen has analyzed several years of wind data collected in the Project Area to confirm that the wind resource is excellent for wind project operations.
Yes. Wind energy is a low-cost resource that is competitive with conventional energy sources. The cost of wind energy has fallen two-thirds since 2009, and in strong wind resources areas like Wyoming, wind energy is the most cost-effective source of new electricity.
Wind energy projects today receive a federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) during operations; this tax credit is in the process of being phased out. If the Rail Tie Wind Project achieves its target commercial operation date of December 2022, it will receive 60% of the historic value of the Production Tax Credit. The PTC was successful in establishing a reliable, competitive wind industry in the United States, and wind energy projects will remain competitive even after the PTC is fully phased out. Lazard’s 2019 Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis found that even without accounting for the PTC, wind energy today is cost-competitive with conventional energy sources.5
Yes. A typical wind energy project repays its carbon footprint in six months or less, providing decades of zero emissions energy that displaces the fossil fuel energy that was used to manufacture the turbines and construct the wind project.10 As wind turbine technology continues to improve with longer lifetimes and larger nameplate capacities, the length of the energy payback period will continue to decrease.
The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory reviewed all published research and concluded that wind energy’s carbon footprint is lower than nuclear and most other renewable energy resources.11
While wind is variable as a power resource, that does not mean that wind projects are backed up with a coal or gas plant should the wind stop blowing. The variability of wind can be predictably forecast and used to complement other generation sources. No electricity source runs 100 percent of the time, including coal, gas, and nuclear plants. Grid operators have decades of experience managing changes in supply and demand, and sudden, unexpected outages at large conventional power plants are more costly and difficult to manage than the gradual, predictable changes in wind output.12 Because of the balancing efforts grid operators undertake, it’s simply untrue that fossil fuel reserves run around the clock for when the wind doesn’t blow.
Wind energy projects, like all forms of development, can result in interactions with the natural environment. Wildlife and natural resources were an important consideration in ConnectGen’s selection of the Rail Tie project site. Importantly, the Project Area avoids sensitive wildlife areas known to Wyoming, such as the sage grouse core areas and connectivity zones, wildlife conservation areas, designated migration corridors, and TNC conservation priority areas.
Even though it has comparatively few effects on wildlife, the wind energy industry is closely regulated by state and federal agencies to ensure any effects are minimized and mitigated. The Rail Tie Wind Project site was selected as part of a screening process to identify sites with necessary wind generation characteristics but limited risks to wildlife and protected lands. ConnectGen is engaged in extensive studies of the wildlife resources associated with the project area. The studies are being performed as part of the tiered study approach described in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines, as well as applicable guidance provided by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.13 The data collected will be used to assess the potential impacts that the project may have on the natural environment and will help inform environmental protection measures that when implemented, will avoid and minimize impacts to wildlife. ConnectGen is committed to the responsible siting, construction, and operation of each of its wind projects.
Climate change remains the largest threat to wildlife. Wind power is one of the most effective, fastest, cheapest solutions to reduce carbon pollution and the climate change it contributes to. A typical wind project repays its carbon footprint in six months or less, providing decades of zero emission energy that displaces fossil fuel energy and combats climate change.14
The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab noted that wind turbines cause less than 0.01 percent of all human-related bird deaths. According to the American Wind Energy Association, aside from habitat loss, the greatest cause of bird deaths are cats and tall buildings. As David O-Neil, Chief Conservation Officer at the Audubon Society stated in a Huffington Post article, “You can’t be against renewable energy, wind and solar, if you are for protecting birds.”
According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory17, there are more than 1.3 million homes located within five miles of a utility-scale wind turbine. The study also found that 92 percent of survey respondents living within five miles of a wind turbine reported positive or neutral experiences and that 90 percent of survey respondents would prefer to live near a wind farm over any type of centralized power plant, whether coal, natural gas or nuclear.
Numerous peer-reviewed, third-party studies have shown that wind turbines do not have adverse, direct impacts on human health. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine titled, “Wind Turbines and Health: A Critical Review of the Scientific Literature.” A panel of experts with professional experience and training in occupational and environmental medicine, acoustics, epidemiology, otolaryngology, psychology, and public health was commissioned to “assess the peer-reviewed literature regarding potential health effects among people living in the vicinity of wind turbines.” Upon review, they concluded, “No clear or consistent association is seen between noise from wind turbines and any reported disease or other indicator of harm to human health.” 18
Further, Health Canada, in partnership with Statistics Canada, conducted a major study of over one thousand homes and reached the same conclusion, stating, “No evidence was found to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported illnesses.” 19
Wind projects do not burn fossil fuel to generate electricity, and as a result, do not emit any air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, or particulate matter. In 2018, wind energy reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 200 million metric tons – equivalent to over 11 percent of annual U.S. electric sector emissions, or nearly 43 million cars’ worth of carbon emissions.20 It is estimated that by reducing harmful emissions that contribute to chronic illness and premature death, wind projects reduced public health costs by $9.4 billion in 2018 alone.21
Today’s wind turbines take advantage of over 30 years of design, engineering, manufacturing and operating experience to minimize sound from operations. Further, the Rail Tie Wind Project will be designed to comply with local and state laws to limit sound impacts.
Existing infrastructure, such as the Union Pacific railroad and Highway 287, and the sound of the wind itself contribute to existing noise levels in the Project Area. ConnectGen will design the Rail Tie Wind Project within Albany County’s regulations, which will minimize additional sound impacts on nearby residences.
Albany County’s wind regulations mandate that noise associated with large-scale wind project operation shall not exceed 55 dBA at any point along the common property lines between a non-participating property and a participating property. For comparison, a 55 dBA sound level is considered to be equivalent to a quiet suburban night.
As part of the Western Area Power Administration’s preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement, an Acoustical Assessment will be performed on the Rail Tie Wind Project to determine the potential sound impacts associated with the construction and operation of the facility. The analysis will consider the “worst case” (i.e., loudest) turbine layout and turbine option scenarios. This Acoustical Assessment will also be used to confirm that the Rail Tie Wind Project is in compliance with Albany County’s noise regulations.
Many studies have shown that wind projects do not have long-term negative impacts on the value of neighboring properties. Wind projects benefit all local property owners by driving economic investment and tax revenue. These funds improve roads, schools, and community services, while also keeping local taxes low – all of which factor into property values.
According to the Energy Policy Institute, 10 major studies spanning three countries and 1.3 million property transactions over 18 years have found that wind projects do not decrease property values:
- The U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab collected data from more than 50,000 home sales among 27 counties in nine states. These homes were within 10 miles of 67 different wind facilities, and 1,198 sales were within one mile of a wind turbine. The data span the periods well before announcement of the wind facilities to well after their construction. The research found no statistical evidence that home values near turbines were affected in the post-construction or post-announcement/preconstruction periods.22
- The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center studied the relationship between wind turbines and residential property values in Massachusetts to assess whether home values were affected by proximity to wind turbines. An analysis of more than 122,000 Massachusetts home sales between 1998 and 2012 found no statistically significant evidence that proximity to a wind turbine affects home values.23
- Another study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research argues that wind turbines do not negatively affect property values, and, in some cases, may increase home prices.24
- Numerous other property value studies based on statistical analysis of real estate transactions have found that wind facilities have no consistent significant impact on property values (Sterzinger et al. 2003; Hoen et al. 2009; Hinman 2010; Carter 2011).
Polls consistently find that a majority of Americans support wind energy, and in places where there are more wind turbines present, there is increased support.25 For example:
- Ecotourism has been on the rise for decades, and wind projects have become tourist attractions.26
- In 2017, The Goucher Poll asked 671 Marylanders if views of wind turbines would change their feelings about vacationing in Ocean City. Their findings: 75 percent of respondents said the sight of wind turbines would make no difference, while 12 percent answered that the turbines would make them more likely to visit.27
- The Goucher Poll results echoed the findings of a study released by the Sage Policy Group in August 2017. Sage looked at whether or not views of the turbines would impact tourism or home values in Ocean City, and they concluded there were no statistically significant negative impacts. Sage also found that for young people in particular, the presence of turbines is a plus.28
- In 2019, researchers at the University of Rhode Island found that, contrary to the concerns that offshore wind would affect tourism, tourism to Block Island increased the year after the Block Island Wind Project was constructed.29
As with any structure, wind turbines can accumulate ice under certain atmospheric conditions. This possibility and the risk of ice throw is taken into account during both project planning and operation. The turbines used for the Rail Tie Wind Project will be properly sited in accordance with Albany County regulations, which requires setback distances from roads and residences that adequately protect the public from the risk of ice throw.30
In addition, modern wind turbines are designed with ice detection systems to minimize the potential for ice throw. If ice accumulates on the blades, the turbine will simply shut off and will remain at a standstill until the ice melts.
A fire at a wind turbine is a rare event, with only a handful of incidents over decades of operation of hundreds of thousands of turbines sited around the world. However, extensive precautions are taken to prevent them and ensure the safety of the surrounding area should one occur.31
Safety measures to prevent fires include systems that prevent the turbine blades from rotating too fast, temperature monitors, and automatic shut off systems to prevent over-heating, lightning protection and arc-flash detection, as well as the ability to shut-down a turbine from a remote operating control center.
Prior to starting construction, ConnectGen must develop an Emergency Response Plan in coordination with Albany County emergency services. Additionally, Wildfire Mitigation Measures will be developed in coordination with the Laramie Fire Department, Tie Siding Volunteer Fire Department, and Vedauwoo Volunteer Fire Department and will be incorporated into the Emergency Management Plan.
2 Albany County Wyoming: “Albany County Comprehensive Plan, section3.1”: https://www.co.albany.wy.us/SharedFiles/Download.aspx?pageid=189&mid=519&fileid=4676
3 Albany County, Wyoming: “Code of the West”: https://www.co.albany.wy.us/Data/Sites/1/SharedFiles/planning/code-of-west-01.01.13.pdf
4 AWEA: “Basics of Wind Energy:” https://www.awea.org/wind-101/basics-of-wind-energy
5 Lazard: “Levelized Cost of Energy version 13.0”: https://www.lazard.com/media/451086/lazards-levelized-cost-of-energy-version-130-vf.pdf
10 Science Daily: “Wind turbine payback: Environmental lifecycle assessment of 2-megawatt wind turbines”: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616093317.htm
11 NREL: “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Electricity Generation”: https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/57187.pdf
12 Forbes: “What Does 100% Renewable Energy Really Mean?” https://www.forbes.com/sites/joshuarhodes/2018/08/21/what-does-100-renewable-energy-really-mean/#209166ce1ac8
13 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines”: https://www.fws.gov/ecological-services/es-library/pdfs/WEG_final.pdf
14 Science Daily: “Wind turbine payback: Environmental lifecycle assessment of 2-megawatt wind turbines”: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616093317.htm
15 Global Wind Energy Council: “Wind in Numbers”: https://gwec.net/global-figures/wind-in-numbers/
16 AWEA: “Living Near Wind Turbines:” https://www.awea.org/wind-101/benefits-of-wind/wind-in-my-community/living-near-wind-turbines
17 Berkley Lab: “National Survey of Attitudes of Wind Power Project Neighbors”: https://emp.lbl.gov/projects/wind-neighbor-survey?utm_source=Hoen-Wind+Acceptance+Survey&utm_campaign=Hoen-Wind+Acceptance+Survey&utm_medium=email
18 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: “Wind Turbines and Health: A Critical Review of the Scientific Literature”: https://journals.lww.com/joem/Pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2014&issue=11000&article=00009&type=Fulltex
19 Government of Canada: “What is the Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study?”: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-risks-safety/radiation/everyday-things-emit-radiation/wind-turbine-noise/wind-turbine-noise-environmental-workplace-health.html
20 AWEA: “Environmental Benefits”: https://www.awea.org/wind-101/benefits-of-wind/environmental-benefits
21 AWEA: “Environmental Benefits” https://www.awea.org/wind-101/benefits-of-wind/environmental-benefits
22 Berkley Lab: “A Spatial Hedonic Analysis of the Effects of Wind Energy Facilities on Surrounding Property Values in the United States” https://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-6362e.pdf
23 Massachusetts Clean Energy Center: “Relationship between Wind Turbines and Residential Property Values in Massachusetts”: https://www.masscec.com/relationship-between-wind-turbines-and-residential-property-values-massachusetts
24 Renewable UK: “RenewableUK & Cebr Study – The effect of wind farms on house prices”: https://www.renewableuk.com/news/304411/RenewableUK–Cebr-Study—The-effect-of-wind-projects-on-house-prices.htm
25 Clean Technica: “Americans Overwhelmingly Support Wind Power”: https://cleantechnica.com/2014/04/01/wind-power-widely-supported-americans/
26 NC Coastal Wind: “Wind farms are tourist attractions”: http://www.coastalwind.org/tourism
28 USA Today: “Ocean City offshore wind project won’t deter tourists, developer says”: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/local/maryland/2017/08/18/ocean-city-offshore-wind-project-wont-deter-tourists-developer-says/580048001/
29 The University of Rhode Island: “URI researchers: Offshore wind farm increased tourism on Block Island”: https://today.uri.edu/news/uri-researchers-offshore-wind-farm-increased-tourism-on-block-island/
30 http://www.co.albany.wy.us/Data/Sites/1/ZoningUpdated_8-1-17.pdf (see Section 5-15 (G)(7))
31 Into the Wind, AWEA Blog: “The truth about wind power” http://www.aweablog.org/the-truth-about-wind-power/