Complex weather vanes are taking the place of a licked finger extended in the breeze to gauge the wind as Coloradans consider expanding the state’s ability to generate wind energy.
To study eastern El Paso County’s capacity for turning wind into energy, California-based Clipper Windpower has erected a 197-foot anemometer pole near Ramah and will put two more poles around Rush and Calhan.
Much needs to be determined, but the potential for an El Paso County wind farm has some elected officials and residents discussing what role – if any – local lands and workers might play in the future of alternative energy.
“It is not really up to me; it is up to the property owners,” said Commissioner Amy Lathen, whose district would house the wind farm. “Some are very excited about it, and in others we have had owners ask us not to do that. Otherwise, obviously, it is another source of power and it generates that power and revenue for those property owners. And that is all great.”
Opposition to the project could be fierce.
El Paso County commissioners denied Clipper’s request for a fourth pole after neighbors complained that a wind farm would interfere with their plans for retirement homes and noisefree living.
If the course of other projects around the state and country is an indication, environmental concerns, including bird fatalities and habitat impacts, turbines’ “whirring” noise and lighting, would also need mitigation.
But the economic returns could be huge.
A 2007 report by Denverbased advocacy group Environment Colorado estimates that increasing the amount of energy generated from renewable sources such as the wind by 2020 could increase rural property owners’ lease revenues by $50 million and generate an additional $400 million in property taxes for rural areas statewide.
Because of its energy capacity, wind is quickly gaining popularity as an alternative or additive to mainstream coal- and gas-fueled utilities.
In 2007, there was a 45 percent increase in the nation’s total wind-power generating capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
This year’s wind energy growth in the United States is expected to match 2007 figures.
Seen mostly in Texas, wind farms popped up in recent years around Colorado as the state enters the growing alternative energy trend.
The state ranks 11th on AWEA’s list of the top 20 states for wind energy potential.
The Centennial State’s most likely area for such generation lies atop the Continental Divide, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Renewable Energy Systems Americas, which moved its headquarters from Austin, Texas, to Broomfield, is building a wind farm in Elbert and Lincoln counties set for completion in 2010, the Denver Post reported last week.
Locally, two of Clipper’s poles for measuring wind speed and direction will soon be installed, one in a backyard in Rush and the other three miles northeast of Calhan.
Generally, wind needs to blow at least 9 mph at a steady pace to power a 1-megawatt turbine.
The company will need to gather wind data in the area for at least a year.
If financing and land access hurdles can be cleared, Clipper Wind turbines could be spinning by 2010, Clipper spokeswoman Mary McCann-Gates said. The turbines could provide wind energy to Xcel Energy, Mountain View Electric Association or Tri-State Electric.
McCann-Gates would not disclose the projected electricity production of a Calhan wind farm.
By Carlyn Ray Mitchell
30 March 2008
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