SHERIDAN — Sheridan County officials will consider a large solar energy project proposed near Swaim Road in the coming months as it makes its way through the permitting process.
Sheridan Solar, LLC, has proposed to construct an approximate 20-megawatt commercial utility-scale solar energy facility on a 163-acre parcel of land at the west end of Swaim Road.
According to application documents, the property is locally owned by SunSource, LLC, and is leased to Sheridan Solar, LLC. It’s currently used for cattle grazing.
Sheridan County Planner Mark Reid said the county has never granted a permit for a commercial solar energy facility.
Sheridan County Commissioner Christi Haswell said the project has the potential to grow and diversify energy production, increase revenues for the county through higher property values for the proposed project and perhaps create jobs — in the short term, for construction and installation, and in the long term for maintenance and operations.
The project, if approved, would consist of approximately 90,000 photo-voltaic arrays using a fixed racking system focused in the northwestern portion of the property building eastward.
The application indicates the facility would also include underground collection systems that would eventually tie into the existing Montana-Dakota Utilities substation located east of the project on Swaim Road.
State statute defines a commercial solar energy facility as one with a rated power capacity of more than one-half megawatt of electricity.
Reid said according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association, one megawatt will power approximately 146 homes in Wyoming, meaning the proposed project could power nearly 3,000 homes.
New projects present new challenges, though. Reid indicated one challenge could be ensuring project leaders remain in contact with local emergency services to ensure adequate response to any incidents. Coordination with transportation authorities will also be important, Reid said.
Haswell also indicated any new development has to also weigh impacts to wildlife, erosion and other factors.
“This is a good project and I don't feel it will have negative impacts but it's why we have the permit process we do,” Haswell said. “If renewable projects really took off we may need to think about staffing up because we're also setting records in terms of housing development and associated permits but we're not there right now.”
Haswell added that some aspects of projects like the proposed solar arrays are also done in conjunction with state and federal agencies such as Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Land Management and State Historic Preservation Offices and others. Involvement of other agencies varies based on surface ownership and the project details.