LUSK – The Niobrara County Commissioners hosted a public meeting about the possible clean hydrogen project during its regular meeting on Tuesday.
The commissioners decided to hold the meeting in the courtroom after their lunchbreak because they believed there would be a lot of people in attendance due to the amount of attention the project was receiving from the community. Around 40 people from Niobrara and surrounding counties filed into the room to listen to a presentation from Mike Noonan from Aspen Consulting.
Noonan spoke to the audience on behalf of his client, Nordex Acciona, which is a German-founded group with a base in Chicago.
The project is a two-billion-dollar investment in a hydrogen fuel plant which will be powered by a wind farm. The current use for hydrogen is for aviation, maritime, and possibly rail transportation.
Noonan said there are about nine similar projects being proposed in the state.
“We’re probably one of the larger programs and it sounds like we’re a little bit ahead of the other developers,” Noonan said.
Water will of course need to be in constant supply and Noonan said eight to 12 industrial wells will be needed to supply 700 gallons a minute at all times.
Much of the concern from the public centered around the consequences for using so much water in an area in which it is in high demand.
Noonan emphasized the work he has done with state engineers and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to ensure they stay away from trouble areas. Noonan also said they will not use landowners’ ag wells and will make their own industrial wells.
Members of the audience pointed out the source of the aquafers is largely unknown and overusing it can cause problems especially when combined with the drought from the past three years. Noonan said they will monitor the situation closely to ensure they are getting enough water.
“If a year from now if it just doesn’t look feasible to pull that kind of water from here to Dave Johnson then this project will go somewhere else,” Noonan said.
Consistency of water is the primary factor in the success of the project which is expected to last for 30-50 years.
Noonan was asked about what will happen to the massive wind farm when the project is over and if the county will be stuck with the structures. Noonan said the turbines will be hauled off at the end of the lease and a bond will be put in pace to pay for the restoration of the area.
Concerns were also brought up about this project being related to President Joe Biden’s Green New Deal, but Noonan stated the project started during the previous administration with no foresight about such a bill. Noonan did say the deal could help with federal cost as the governor is trying to combine as much funding as possible to pay for the project. Noonan also said he learned the governor is pushing for hydrogen in the state in order to be one of the country’s “hydrogen hubs” which the government is looking to implement.
In terms of transporting the hydrogen, Noonan said it will run through the current rail system and will have to be mixed with natural gas because it is so corrosive.
The plan is to keep the project North and West of Lusk while the driving factors continue to be water ad interest from landowners.
Noonan said he plans to have more public meeting and including other members of the project team to answer the community’s questions.
About half of the audience signified they were still uncomfortable with the plan when asked at the end of the meeting.
For more information, contact Noonan at [email protected] or by phone at 970-443-0164.
In other business, the commissioners met with Road and Bridge Foreman Fred Thomas about a fuel contract with Westco.
Josh Harkins from Benchmark of Torrington joined the meeting to finalize the contract for the project on North Lance Creek Road.
Contractors who wish to bid on the project will have two options. Option A signifies the contractor will do the project on its own while option B offers the aide of the county while also adding the cost of county labor and equipment to the total bid.
The commissioners agreed to move the estimated project time from 130 days to 100 days but will still put the county cost over $150,000 which is most likely more than the average offers from option A.
Thomas said he expects three to four serious bids. Pre-bid will start on Jan. 5 and the bid will be on Jan. 18.
The commissioners also heard reports from the department heads and elected officials which included an update on the Homeland Security grant from Emergency Management Coordinator James Santistevan. The county received half of the funding ($30,000) it asked for in regard to the installation of a new generator at the courthouse, but Santistevan said they are looking into getting them the other half of the grant as well. The project is estimated to be $63,000 and Santistevan said they could receive $34,000 in order to do the project.
County Attorney Anne Wasserburger also met with the commissioners to discuss getting involved with the national opioid settlement. The state and counties participating will receive money to be used to fight the opioid crisis.
Wasserburger said there are is a lack of resources to help people in the county with mental health issues and addiction.
“We don’t really any local addiction or abuse help outside of AA,” Wasserburger said. “I would love to have more options.”
The commissioners addressed new business including the approval of a 24-hour catering permit to 3 Sister’s Truck Stop for Chris Smith’s retirement party on Dec. 18, and a 24-hour malt beverage permit to Carla Stroh for a sip and paint event on Dec 16.
Before approving the bills, District 5 Representative J.D. Williams and Niobrara County Republican Chairman Jeb Hanson discussed updates on the redistricting map with the commissioners. The Joint Corporations committee agreed on a map during its last meeting from Dec. 1 to Dec. 2 which could lead to Niobrara being combined with Weston County and weakening Niobrara’s chances of having a representative in Cheyenne. However, the lines for Region 6 (Crook, Campbell, Weston) and Region 7 (Niobrara, Goshen, Converse, Platte) were amended to not be finalized as local legislators continue to work out what is the best course of action. The next Corporations meeting is Dec. 14 in Cheyenne.
The next commissioners meeting will be Dec. 21 at 9 a.m. in the Niobrara County Courthouse.