Cokeville Solar Project Stalled By Mystery Ownership, Potential Litigation – Cowboy State Daily

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A solar farm project south of Cokeville in southwestern Wyoming has disappeared from the spotlight in Lincoln County with construction plans halted in a mire of murky changes in ownership amid a cloud of litigation.

Ownership of the $175 million solar farm project has been a game of musical chairs first approved a few years ago by state regulators.

Cokeville Mayor Colby Peck told Cowboy State Daily that the project had previously been permitted by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Industrial Siting Council, and “everything was supposed to be squared away.”

“The last I heard is that this is in litigation with different parties, and that’s why it is being held up,” said Peck, who couldn’t identify any of the parties in the lawsuit.

No records of litigation could be found in Wyoming courts to confirm Peck’s hunch.

The project owners “did clear some sagebrush south of town,” said Peck of nearly 430 acres of land along the east side of Lincoln County Road 207 just west of the Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, a waterfowl habitat near the Bear River.

Company Sold

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the developer of the project had proposed to build an 80-megawatt solar farm with onsite battery storage on the west side of CR 207, also known as the Cokeville-Utah Line Road.

The farm was projected to provide enough juice from its solar panels to power as many as 72,000 homes, and connect with a key transmission line owned in the area by the Berkshire Hathaway-owned PacifiCorp.

In 2022, DEQ’s Industrial Siting Council approved the permit application filed by Broad Reach Power on Oct. 29, 2021. Of note that Houston-based Broad Reach Power, which at the time had $100 million worth of renewable assets under its belt, is no longer involved in the project because of the sale of the company last year.

The divvying up of its assets is where the confusion comes into play.

In Lincoln County economic and local political circles, the project is referred to as the Greenbacker Renewable Energy Corp. solar proposal.

Kent Connelly, chairman of the Lincoln County Commission, said in an email to Cowboy State Daily that he was not aware of litigation, or who owns the project.

“We have been told it’s on hold, but not why,” he wrote in the email.

For sure, Greenbacker was involved in the 80-MW shovel-ready project in late 2022, but has since declined to say anything publicly about the proposal.

Of consequence is the fact that the clock is ticking for whomever is wanting to turn the prairie land into a solar farm.

Musical Chairs

The developer of the solar farm has until March 8, 2025, to begin construction on the land or else face restarting the expensive permitting process over again, according to a copy of the signed DEQ document obtained by Cowboy State Daily through a Public Records Act request.

According to the document, Broad Reach Power originally proposed the solar farm idea as long ago as 2019.

Broad Reach Power let go of the solar farm project at about the time the company was acquired by a French multinational corporation, the latter of which told Cowboy State Daily that it has nothing to do with Wyoming.

Alexandra Doyle, a spokeswoman for Greenbacker Capital, declined to comment on the latest developments in the solar project though Greenbacker has ties.

“We do not have a comment at this time,” she wrote to Cowboy State Daily in response to questions on the status of the project.

The strands of ownership are messy and difficult to unravel.

One strand dates to May 2021, when Greenbacker announced that it selected Rockville, Maryland-based Chaberton Energy Holdings to help develop a portfolio of 200 MW in projects in Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Chaberton spokewoman Erica Brinker said that her company has never done business in Wyoming, but noted that Greenbacker is a minority investor in her renewable energy business.

In May 2023, Greenbacker confirmed in its quarterly financial results that it had an interest in the Cokeville project, closing a deal to buy the “Lincoln solar project” from some unidentified seller.

The identity of the firm Greenbacker bought the firm from was not disclosed, but the Cokeville solar farm was previously held by Broad Reach Power.

Last month, Greenbacker said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had an interest in a solar and battery storage project in Wyoming.

Greenbacker did not elaborate on the project in the SEC filing.

Murky Ownership

In August 2023 — three months after Greenbacker’s disclosure in the quarterly filing of the “Lincoln solar project” — Houston-based Engie North America Inc., a unit of French multinational company Engie SA, acquired the battery storage business of privately held Broad Reach Power.

Broad Reach Power’s name was associated with the Lincoln County solar project prior to Greenbacker stepping into the picture.

In a statement to Cowboy State Daily, Engie spokesman Michael Clingan said that his company has no stake in the Cokeville project.

He confirmed that Engie does not own any of the Broad Reach Power assets in Wyoming.

Nonetheless, some of the confusion with who owns the Cokeville assets is related to the fact that they are listed on the Broad Reach Power website, although none have been built.

Broad Reach Power lists the Lincoln Solar I project, and says it’s in development,= with a commercial operation date of December 2023, which never happened.

There also is a proposed 50-MW Lincoln Solar II project listed as in development with a commercial operation date of late 2025.

A third project, an 80-MW solar farm proposal in Sweetwater County — called Raven — is scheduled for commercial operation in late 2026.

A Town In Limbo

Cokeville’s mayor remains cautiously optimistic that the project gets back on track, but is somewhat bothered that it’s making fiscal planning challenging in the meanwhile.

“We do have to do our budget, and there were impact fees associated with that project,” he said. “We didn’t count our chickens before the eggs were hatched.”

A January 2020 document filed by Lincoln County commissioners titled “Final Determination,” which essentially signed off on the proposed project before DEQ’s approval in 2022, raised a few concerns about the solar proposal, though no one locally in Lincoln County could clarify these points.

Some participants at a Dec. 4, 2019, meeting with commissioners raised concerns about “migration blockages” of wildlife and “sage grouse core area implications.”

The participants suggested that the commissioners not approve any large solar or wind energy proposal in the proposed Cokeville location because such a project could block migration patterns of wildlife or disturb sage grouse.

“We don’t know where the project stands,” Peck said.

Pat Maio can be reached at [email protected].

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