When Karl and Gunta Riters visited Pawnee Buttes National Grasslands last week, they were more than a little disappointed – and not just because the main wildflower show was over.
There’s always next year to catch the wildflowers in bloom, but Karl Riters fears for the future of the uninterrupted views of this landscape where the two Pawnee Buttes rise 250 above the desolate steppe.
That’s because since the Fort Collins resident last visited the grasslands last spring, the first of 274 wind turbines have sprung up on the horizon northwest of the buttes. The turbines are part of Cedar Creek Wind Project’s wind farm on 32,000 acres of private land eight miles east of Grover. The project by BP Alternative Energy North America will eventually provide power for 120,000 homes.
The view brought mixed emotions to the Riters.
“To be honest, I was shocked when I first saw them,” said 66-year-old Karl Riters, who enjoys hiking, backpacking and volunteering with the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers. “I saw them from maybe eight miles away and I started hoping that as I got closer they wouldn’t be that apparent. But the closer we got, the worse it looked. I’m all for reducing carbon emissions, but when out in a desolate area like this, you don’t want to see that.”
Lori Bell, the grasslands’ acting district manager, said she has received numerous complaints about the turbines. She said there is nothing the U.S. Forest Service can do because the wind farm is on private land.
Calls to BP’s Houston office were not returned.
“You take the highest point on the landscape and put windmills up there, and it’s going to have a big affect on the viewshed,” Bell said.
Bell said she has not received any applications to put a wind farm on the grasslands but said she doesn’t expect that to last.
“I expect to get some permits because the direction is pretty strong as far as the federal and state governments supporting sustained energy,” she said. “If we do get an application, we will consider it and go through analysis that will include public involvement.”
Colorado Amendment 37 requires the state’s utility companies to derive 3 percent of electricity from renewable resources this year, 6 percent by 2011 and 10 percent by 2015.
Earlier this year, Gov. Bill Ritter, a big proponent of renewable energy, praised the Cedar Creek project, which will create the state’s largest wind farm.
“This project is a perfect example of how we are going to create a new energy economy in Colorado,” Ritter said at the time. “Colorado is the 11th-windiest state in the nation. This project will help us maximize our abundant supply of wind power and at the same time stimulate our economy.”
In addition to the Cedar Creek project, Colorado State University is building a wind farm north of Fort Collins on its 11,000-acre Maxwell Ranch. It will produce 65 megawatts. The Cedar Creek project will generate 300 megawatts, starting this fall.
Along with the altered viewshed, turbines also cause raptor deaths, in widely varying numbers depending on the location of the turbines. Pawnee Buttes is considered one of the best birding locations in the country.
“If we do an application for windmills, we’re in a major bird migration route and there is a concern for windmills affecting bird populations, so we’ll take a look at the research,” Bell said.
Riters said he’ll return to the Pawnee Grasslands, but with a different viewpoint.
“I’ll probably still go back, but now I’ll have to consciously not look to the northwest of the buttes to avoid the view,” he said.
By Miles Blumhardt
23 June 2007
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