Clouds part for commercial solar in Wyoming, top coal state

By Mead Gruver, Associated Press

Planning has begun for the first major commercial solar energy project in Wyoming, where almost 90 percent of electricity generation comes from burning coal.

 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Planning has begun for the first major commercial solar energy project in Wyoming, where almost 90 percent of electricity generation comes from burning coal.

The Sweetwater Solar project 15 miles northwest of Green River in southwest Wyoming would generate 80 megawatts, enough electricity for 12,000 homes.

The project area of solar panels, roads, power lines and other facilities would encompass about a square mile of public land. Developer Sweetwater Solar, LLC, is a subsidiary of the large South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Group.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will take initial public comments on the project through Feb. 14. If all goes smoothly, the project could get approval for construction early next year, BLM Rock Springs Field Manager Kimberlee Foster said Friday.

"There is a lot of interest," Foster said. "There are a lot of concerns about wildlife and that type of thing. So since this is the first one in the state, we're trying to be very diligent."

Three buried oil and gas pipelines cross part of the site and trona mining occurs not far away. The BLM has been talking with petroleum and trona industry officials about the proposal, Foster said.

Other solar installations in Wyoming feed electricity onto the grid but none is close to this big. They include kilowatt-scale installations in western Wyoming owned by the town of Jackson and Lower Valley Energy, according to the Wyoming Public Service Commission.

Most big, commercial solar projects are in the Southwest and Southeast, but increasing efficiency is making utility-scale photovoltaic solar feasible elsewhere. Growing competition from solar and wind power in part are why coal production is down an estimated 37 percent from 2008 to last year.

Wyoming is the top coal-producing state. Almost 88 percent of net electricity generation in the state in 2015 came from coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Eleven percent came from renewable sources, mainly wind power.

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