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Largest onshore wind farm project in US nears regulatory finish line

Billionaire Philip Anschutz's vision to export power from Wyoming to Western electricity markets moved closer to reality as regulators neared final approvals on the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project.

The Bureau of Land Management on Oct. 21 released its environmental assessment for The Anschutz Corp. subsidiary Power Company of Wyoming's 3,000-MW wind farm in Carbon County, Wyo. The assessment is one of the final regulatory hurdles for the largest wind project in the U.S.

The BLM assessment laid out the agency's "proposed action" to approve the project's 396-turbine second phase. A 15-day public comment period closes Nov. 4, after which the agency will issue a final decision. The BLM previously approved the first, 500-turbine phase of the project.

"This project is a great example of the importance of partnerships between the BLM, the State of Wyoming, our local communities, external groups, cooperating agencies, and the project proponent, Power Company of Wyoming," said BLM Rawlins Field Manager Dennis Carpenter in a press release. "The project fulfills many of the agency's priorities, including sustainably developing energy resources, modernizing our infrastructure, increasing revenues and creating jobs in local communities while balancing protections for other resources in the project area."

Anschutz Corp. subsidiary TransWest Express LLC is also pursuing the TransWest Express Transmission project, a proposed $3 billion, 730-mile high-voltage line that would bring electricity from Chokecherry/Sierra Madre to Nevada and the cities of the Southwest.

Kara Choquette, spokeswoman for the companies, said TransWest Express LLC needs two more counties to authorize the line, which would begin construction in 2020. For the wind farm, Power Company of Wyoming still needs a permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relating to any incidental injuries or deaths of eagles, Choquette said.

Power Company of Wyoming hopes to begin installing turbines on phase one of the project by 2022, and on phase two by 2025 or 2026. Construction on access roads, turbine pads and other infrastructure is underway.

Chokecherry/Sierra Madre would more than double Wyoming's wind power capacity, which in 2018 was 1,490 MW. Wyoming has been lagging behind other western states in adding wind power capacity over the past decade, but state officials and utilities have ambitions to make Wyoming one of the leading producers of wind energy in the West.