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County residents convince wind power company to change plans

In the Falcon-area Woodmen Hills neighborhood, people say they aren’t against green energy.

They just don’t want energy from a new wind farm near Calhan coming through on 100-foot-tall utility poles, which they say would mar their views, lower property values and create potential health risks.

“It’s got great views. All you see is farms and wide-open spaces,” resident Joe Chapman said of the area. “I like getting up and having coffee and watching the rising sun, and having big power lines is not going to help that.”

Score one for the neighbors.

It took a handful of loosely-affiliated residents just over a month to convince California-based Clipper Windpower to change plans for bringing that wind energy to Colorado Springs. This week, the company agreed to bury the high-voltage transmission lines through the area, at five times the cost.

“I do take that as a very positive gesture,” said resident Ralph Laurie, who led the effort with Chapman.

The wind farm is being built east of Calhan. The company is seeking permission from El Paso County to transmit the power through county property along the Rock Island Regional Trail, which parallels U.S. Highway 24, rather than negotiate with numerous property owners.

The route is mostly rural, though some backyards abut the corridor. The lines and poles would be twice as high as current power lines.

When Laurie and Chapman learned of the plans in September, they started knocking on doors.

“We knew, buying the property, Highway 24 was there,” said Richard Ellin, who moved here after 30 years in the Air Force. “If we had seen those power lines and 100-foot towers, I would not have bought this house.”

Along with the aesthetic and property-value concerns, residents say they don’t know if the high-voltage lines carry health risks. Research on the subject is mixed.

Wednesday, during a meeting of the El Paso County Park Advisory Board, which will advise county commissioners on approving the easement, Clipper officials changed their proposal.

“We have decided, based on practical considerations and based on the feedback we received and continue to receive, to go ahead and bury, or propose to bury, that portion of the transmission line,” said Clipper regional development manager Krista Gordon.

The company would bury 2.5 of the 9 miles of transmission lines along the trail. Generally, it costs five times as much to bury lines than run them overhead, though company officials did not have an estimate of what the change in proposals would cost.

A draft agreement between Clipper and the county indicates the company would pay a one-time price of $121,250 for the easement.

Residents praised Clipper’s decision.

“We’re very grateful as a community for (Clipper) agreeing to amend their proposal for building the lines. The impact this would have had on our street in particular and our community in general would be devastating,” Laurie said.

The line would be buried from the southwest end of the Rock Island Trail northeast to a quarter-mile north of Highway 24 and Judge Orr Road. The remainder would be overhead lines, and Gordon told the board that any requirement to bury the entire stretch would be a deal-killer. The company is negotiating with private landowners to build other sections of lines.

Colorado Springs Utilities, which wants to buy at least 50 megawatts of wind energy, is among Clipper’s potential customers. While Utilities last summer issued an intent to award a bid to Clipper, no contracts have been signed. Gordon told the board the rest of the power generated would be sold to other utilities.

The board will vote on the easement in November.