By MEAD GRUVER
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) â¿¿ A divided Wyoming citizen panel on Monday granted a seventh permit extension in 16 years for a power plant in the Powder River Basin that was first proposed in 1996 and has yet to be built.
A majority of the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council voiced skepticism about the $800 million Two Elk Energy Park outside Wright in the Powder River Basin. Even so, the council voted 4-2 to amend the project's permit. Under the change, work would resume in January 2014 and wrap up in 2016.
Two Elk originally was supposed to begin generating electricity in 1999, but all that's been built since it got its first industrial siting permit in 1997 is a storage building and part of the plant's foundation.
Lack of financing has been the project's biggest hang-up. Though the power plant got help from $445 million in municipal bonds over the years, Two Elk's developer, Greenwood Village, Colo.-based North American Power Group, is still seeking an investor.
Two council members opposed the latest extension, but other members said the council's authority is limited to managing any socio-economic or environmental disruption to nearby communities. Second-guessing whether the plant will be built, said those who voted for the extension, is not within the council's purview.
"In my mind, folks, there's a lot of ancillary discussion going on," said council Chairman Shawn Warner, of Powell. "I can find no socio-economic impacts that are negative."
The Industrial Siting Council dates to the 1970s and traces its origins to the strains on police and other local services that an invasion of workers at booming coal mines caused in northeast Wyoming â¿¿ in the same area as the Two Elk site a couple miles from Arch Coal's enormous Black Thunder mine.
Council member Jim Miller, of Sundance, described himself as supportive of coal-fired electricity but said Two Elk's delays may well have caused socio-economic harm. Other power plant operators in the region might be trying to plan for when and if Two Elk will begin generating electricity, he suggested.