The Las Animas County commission last week gave approval for an international company to construct a wind farm of 86 turbines in the northwest part of the county.
Three-fifths of the proposed wind farm would be located in the Cordova Mesa area northeast of Aguilar to Highway 10, with the rest located in Huerfano County to the north. The Cordova Wind Farm will be the first wind farm project in Colorado for E.On Climate and Renewables, an international renewable energy firm with its U.S. headquarters in Chicago.
E.On had been required to seek from the county two permits, a special-use permit and the 1041 Regulations permit. The latter allows counties to authorize the adoption of regulations for activities and developments that they deem to be of state interest, requiring mitigation of possible negative impacts and allowing for public input regarding the development. The 1041 permit addresses technical issues surrounding projects, such as soil analyses and possible impacts to agricultural and archeological interests.
The county revised its land-use regulations this summer, an extensive process that also allowed for the inclusion of wind farm-specific parameters that had yet to exist within the county’s regulatory framework.
E.On’s Paul Bowman described for the commissioners that a legally and operationally successful wind farm project site required land rights, good wind resources, permits from the relevant agencies or government bodies and connection to a local grid. Regarding the last matter, Bowman told the commissioners that E.On was working with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and Xcel Energy on a power-purchasing agreement for the energy produced by the wind farm.
Bowman acknowledged that E.On had been hoping to already have the power-purchasing agreement in place. However, he noted the uncertainty of another power-transmission project has delayed things. That project is intended to result in the building of a power-transmission line from the San Luis Valley to the Comanche power plant near Pueblo.
“This (wind farm) project, any future projects in this area – Las Animas County, Huerfano County – depend on that project getting approved by the public utility commission and getting built,” Bowman said. “They expected to get approval for the line this April, (but) the line has faced some opposition that has delayed the decision…it’s probably unlikely the utility is going to move forward with the power-purchase agreement until they have greater certainty over the outcome of that process.”
He described the fate of the transmission project as being ultimately out of E.On’s control, and said that the corporation was exploring alternatives.
“The utility has reason to believe they’re going to prevail and the line is going to get built,” Bowman said. “In the event that doesn’t happen, we’re discussing a number of alternatives with the utilities that will allow the project to move forward independent of this issue.”
Asked by Commissioner Jim Vigil about the possible alternatives, E.On was exploring, Bowman stated that he was not currently at liberty to discuss them.
Bowman was also questioned by the commissioners on a number of conditions related to the wind farm, including the construction site’s adherence to noise regulations, dust mitigation, the county’s attempts to limit the spread of noxious weeds and its plans for funding the eventual decommissioning of the project. For the latter, E.On is providing, prior to construction, a graduated bond to the county at a price of $5,000 per turbine for a total of about $1.2 million.
“In year five, it goes up to $10,000 per turbine; in year 10, it goes up to $15,000 per turbine, and that letter of credit will remain in place for the remainder of the project,” Bowman said.
Bowman said that an engineering firm had projected for E.On that when the wind farm was possibly decommissioned at a later date, the scrap metal from the turbines could bring about $7 million in scrap metal beyond the decommissioning costs. “That’s if they‘re completely useless and only have their salvage scrap value: the steel, the copper, the other salvageable metals beyond that would generate a positive amount beyond the cost of decommissioning,” he said.
Bowman added that the theoretical decommissioning was a “worse case scenario.”
County and E.On representatives also issued assurances during the county’s special meeting last Wednesday that the wind farm would not interfere in the sub-surface, mineral holder rights of various landowners in the area. “The short gist of it is that (the wind farm) would not affect (mineral rights), at all,” County Planner Robert Valdez said.
Bowman later elaborated that E.On’s interests were subordinate to mineral rights holdings if the holdings had predated the wind farm project.
A job fair for the construction phase of the project is planned to be held in Trinidad in the future. Once construction is completed, the wind farm is expected to provide 15 to 20 long-term jobs.
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