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Carbon County commissioners on Sept. 5 approved a wind farm about 10 miles southeast of Bridger that has been in the works for almost a decade. Construction is slated to begin in the fall.

The project, originally called the Mud Springs Wind Ranch Project, has been renamed the Pryor Mountain Wind Project. The project changed hands several times before Pacificorp bought the farm from Sunrise Wind Holdings LLC in May. 

The 114-turbine farm will connect with an existing Pacificorp 230-kilovolt transmission line in Park County, Wyoming. The turbines will reach about 454 feet tall at the high point of the blades. 

The $406 million project is estimated to produce enough energy to power more than 76,000 homes on an annual basis, according to Pacificorp numbers. The project is also expected to have a 30-year life, and employ about 12 full-time employees on-site, said Pacificorp spokesperson Spencer Hall. 

The wind farm will be built on private land and borders Bureau of Land Management priority habitat for sage grouse.

Working with the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program complicated development, and Pacificorp was on the hook to pay for mitigating the disturbance to the habitat.

In a May meeting the Sage Grouse Oversight Team found that the farm would not have to mitigate damage, since the project predate the state’s sage grouse management strategy, effectively grandfathering the electric company in. The Sage Grouse Oversight Team was created in 2015, and the wind farm had been approved and some permits issued in 2014. 

Despite that, there is still some concern that the wind farm will disturb the sage grouse and other wild birds in the area. Pacificorp paid $2.5 million in fines related to the deaths of protected birds in Wyoming in 2014.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s estimated that up to 500,000 birds die per year from turbine collisions.

Carbon County Commissioner Robert DeArmond said the county took the birds' well-being into consideration is confident the plant will keep damages to a minimum. 

“The economic impact will override the infrastructural stuff,” DeArmond said.

The Bridger community will benefit from the plant, DeArmond said. The county is expecting to receive about $6 million from an impact fee in the first three years, he said.

Construction of the site would not be majorly disruptive, and would mainly skirt Bridger, he said. 

Pacificorp estimates that there will be about 100 truckloads per week of equipment, totaling about 1,140 trucks for the entire project. About 250 construction workers are expected during peak construction.

Construction on roads and foundations will begin in the fall. Hall didn't know an exact starting date.

Setting bases for the turbines and erecting the turbines should occur during the spring and summer, DeArmond said. The plant is set to begin operation Dec. 15, 2020.

Finishing by the end of 2020 is crucial if the electric company wants to qualify for a federal tax break, Hall said. That gives a tax credit of 2.4 cents for every kilowatt hour of energy produced for 10 years. That means the company can decrease rates by 2.4 cents/kWh and still cover its costs. 

"That really adds a lot of value for customers," Hall said.

This is Pacificorp's first foray into wind energy in Montana, but the Oregon-based company does co-own the Colstrip power plant.

"The new energy frontier is going to be renewable, and Montana has a big opportunity be a part of that," Hall said.

This article originally ran on billingsgazette.com.

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