Massive $1.2 Billion, 1.2 Million Panel Solar Farm Planned For South Cheyenne – Cowboy State Daily

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CHEYENNE — Cattle rancher Ed Prosser’s family has been ranching since his great-grandfather moved to south Cheyenne from a northern Ohio farming community well over a century ago.

The land that the elder statesman of the Prosser family settled on in 1906 was originally picked up through the 162-year-old Homestead Act, a federal law that accelerated the settlement of Western territory by granting people ownership of land.

They got 320 acres to get things going in Wyoming, then added thousands more over the decades.

The short grasslands located off Chalk Bluff Road where Prosser lives today is located about 7 miles east of South Greeley Highway, just a few miles north of the Colorado state line.

This is Prosser country. The name is widely recognized along the South Greeley Highway corridor.

There’s a road — East Prosser Road — and patio home apartments that bear the Prosser name along East College Drive where the Laramie County Community College is located.

“I’ve lived in this community all of my life,” Prosser said.

The potholed road that runs out to his house from South Greeley empties onto an unpaved gravel stretch about a mile east of his homestead that eventually cuts over to a few oil and gas derricks, and fenced-in grazing land owned by other ranching families in southeastern Wyoming.

But things are about to change forever. No more rolling hills and bewilderment of what nature has created in this part of Wyoming.

Huge Solar Project

This pastoral landscape is about to be carved up with the construction of a massive $1.2 billion solar farm with more than 1.2 million panels to collect power from the sun’s brightness.

Looking out the front window of Prosser’s one-story ranch on Tuesday, 30 mph winds howled through the Ponderosa pines, cottonwood and aspen trees. Beyond the front and surrounding hills of grass lay more than 2,800 acres of whipped up grass bending to the east in the gale force winds.

“The grass is wonderful,” said the 75-year-old Prosser, pointing to native prairie grasses like buffalo, bluestem and blue grama in the hundreds of acres in his hilly front yard. There’s also larkspar, sagebrush and occasional tumbleweed that rolls across the land.

The shortgrass prairie around his ranch grows naturally in the southeast corner of the Cowboy State where Prosser has lived his entire life. The Pawnee National Grassland in northeastern Colorado, which has no boundaries, touches up against the Wyoming land where Prosser lives.

Until the solar project came along a few years ago, the next biggest hardship for the Prosser family came in the late 1970s when they were caught paying double-digit interest rates on lots of farmland debt, forcing them to sell the original property they owned along Chalk Bluff Road and another cattle investment near Wheatland.

The family took the profit from the land sale of thousands of acres, paid off the debt, and built the one-story ranch that Prosser lives on today — with an occasional coyote running around or pronghorn laying down in the grass.

South Cheyenne rancher Ed Prosser drives past Black Angus cattle feeding on prairie grass near his 2,800-acre ranch. Canada energy giant Enbridge Inc. plans to build a $1.2 billion solar farm to the north and east of his land. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)

Knocking On Heaven’s Doors

The Prossers lived a straightforward ranching life until four years ago, when a representative for Canadian energy giant Enbridge Inc. started making phone calls and visiting ranchers neighboring Prosser.

At that time, an offer was made to pay $500 per acre for “any land developed for the use of solar operations” over a potential 45-year contract, with payments increasing 2% annually, according to a copy of the letter given to Cowboy State Daily.

Prosser, who has about 600 head of Black Angus cattle, turned down the offer at the urging of his wife. No regrets, other than he’ll lose some grazing land that he leases from one of his neighbors who is kicking Prosser’s cattle off of, and instead renting the land now to Enbridge for their solar project.

Since April 2020, Alberta-based Enbridge has worked to get its solar farm project off the ground, taking up leases with most of Prosser’s ranching neighbors to the east and north. If everything goes according to plan, Enbridge will begin building more than 1 million solar panels around Prosser’s land starting next spring — 4 miles along the northern fence of his spread and 2 miles along the eastern edge.

Instead of rolling hills, the land will be dug up to make way for steel posts to hold the solar panels up to the sunlight.

Wyoming’s Industrial Siting Council, the governmental body within the Department of Environmental Quality that considers such solar farm project proposals, approved the construction project in March, a 90-day fast track for the concept, which still needs approval from Laramie County commissioners.

This is likely, especially given that Enbridge, with an $80 billion market capitalization, must abide by a easy to-do list of 29 conditions before construction can begin. The list of conditions includes payment of a $3.2 million impact fee to local government, the purchase of a fire brush truck for Laramie County Fire District 1 (just in case the grasslands catch fire) plus the plowing up of a second access road into the leased solar farmland that is northwest of Prosser’s property.

Enbridge wanted only one road to be built from the east of Prosser’s property, but Prosser worried that firefighters could get trapped with only one way in.

Great Balls Of Fire

Pine Bluffs resident Marc Torriani, a Republican who is running for state Sen. Anthony Bouchard’s Senate District 6 seat in the primary this August, lives about 20 miles to the east of the solar farm and is worried about a potential fire erupting from a very large battery storage system to be built and managed at the solar farm.

The proposed site is on virgin dry prairie grasslands that receive little rainfall and is subject to frequent high winds and hailstorms.

“Water doesn’t put out these fires,” said Torriani of the lithium batteries that will store power for the solar farm. “With lithium-based fires, you got to let them burn out. Adding water is more dangerous.”

A fast-spreading fire on the prairie that can send kicked-up embers by wind to places like the Nebraska border 40 miles to the east, which is high on the list of Prosser’s list of concerns he wants Laramie County’s board of commissioners to address before approving the Enbridge project.

Phone calls placed with Laramie County Fire District 1 in the area and to the county commission were not returned.

Hundreds Of Trucks

For sure, the solar farm project is a big one.

It’s the largest investment in the state for energy giant Enbridge since it built a pipeline to carry crude oil across Wyoming.

Enbridge’s only other presence in Wyoming includes the Express-Platte pipeline that transports crude oil from western Canada to refineries in the U.S. Rockies region. The main delivery point of crude through the pipeline is in Casper.

Under the Cheyenne solar farm proposal, hundreds of temporary jobs will be created to build the massive solar farm project, the largest in the Cowboy State.

“Instead of seeing a truck drive by once every hour, there’ll be hundreds,” Prosser said.

The next largest solar proposal in the Cowboy State is the Dinosolar project, located northwest of Casper, which has been reviewed by the Industrial Siting Council and would generate 440 megawatts of electricity, according to the council in a statement issued to Cowboy State Daily earlier this year.

That project’s status is unknown, as construction was halted by Utah-based Enyo Renewable Energy after PacifiCorp’s Rocky Mountain Power pulled out of buying solar power in Wyoming a few years ago.

An Enyo spokesman could not be reached for comment about an update.

Canada energy giant Enbridge Inc. plans to build a 771-megawatt solar farm in southern Wyoming. It's part of a growing portfolio of wind and solar the company is developing, like this solar farm in Wisconsin.
Canada energy giant Enbridge Inc. plans to build a 771-megawatt solar farm in southern Wyoming. It’s part of a growing portfolio of wind and solar the company is developing, like this solar farm in Wisconsin. (Enbridge Inc.)

The Largest In Wyoming

Construction on the Enbridge project, technically called the Cowboy Solar Project, could begin on private land owned by three ranching families in early 2025 and take up to two years to complete the nearly 5,400-acre solar farm, according to a permit application filed with the state in January.

The proposed 771-megawatt solar facility would be built in two phases and generate enough electricity to light up more than 771,000 homes, more than in all of Wyoming.

The proposal offered by the energy firm, however, designates the power for large industrial corporate customers in Wyoming and not homeowners, according to the application.

Ranchers like Prosser, Torriani and others were told that the power has been designated for the super-sized, energy-starved data centers that software giant Microsoft Corp. and social media giant Meta Platforms Inc. — formerly Facebook — and other big data centers in the area are building in the Cheyenne area.

An Enbridge spokesman said that his company has identified an opportunity to develop a solar and battery energy storage project south of Cheyenne, where “preliminary details” will be shared with the public in “coming months as we explore the opportunity further.”

He said that the project is in an “early development phase,” with final plans still to be “determined via engagement, permitting work and interconnection studies” with the local electrical grid.

However, Prosser claims that Enbridge wants to sell the energy to the data centers, “and they can’t start the project until they have the energy contracted.”

Prosser said that the project is part of a wider effort by Enbridge to target the data centers because corporations like Microsoft and Meta want to say they are using clean energy.

The expansive development of solar power by Enbridge in Cheyenne saddens Prosser.

“You’ve got to grow, and I understand this, but I hate to see everything turned upside down with this project,” he said. “My concern is that the grazing land will now be converted to industrial, and during construction, hundreds of cars will drive over these roads morning and night.”

The grasslands may change forever, he said.

“We’ll be downwind from the solar farm, and all the weeds will blow this way when they tear up the grass,” he said. “It’s very fertile soil, so it’s easy to get the weeds started. It’s very fragile grass.”

Pat Maio can be reached at [email protected].

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