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Activity hectic at wind ranch

WILDORADO – Golden Spread Electric Cooperative held a groundbreaking Thursday, but nearby activity showed the ground was already quite broken.

About 75 people gathered at the co-op’s Panhandle Wind Ranch for the event while all kinds of heavy equipment kept up the fast-paced project construction.

Graders carved and smoothed roads, and excavators lifted sizeable buckets of dirt. Nearby, workers began tying together steel rebar at least an inch in diameter at the bottom of holes that will hold foundations for 34 wind turbines.

“In 15 days, they’ve built 5.68 miles of road,” said Mark Schwirtz, president and general manager of Golden Spread. “All the foundations and 12 miles of road will be finished by the end of the year.”

He also offered several examples of the scale of the work including: There will be 42 tons of steel in the foundations of each turbine, 80,000 feet of cable to bring electricity from turbines to a substation, and a crane 290 feet tall will raise the turbine parts into place.

Walt Hornaday, president of Cielo Wind Power, which developed the project and is overseeing its completion, thanked the 20 landowners involved, Oldham County commissioners and local school districts for their contributions. He also credited the state’s incentives and positive business climate.

The timing of the project has allowed Golden Spread to get some federal stimulus funding as well as made construction more affordable.

“We’re taking advantage of a lull in the industry that allows us to take advantage of the economics,” Hornaday said.

Oldham County Judge Don Allred praised the addition of a second wind facility as the blades of the nearby Wildorado Wind Ranch spun slowly in the background.

“Some 10 years ago, I was very fortunate to have the understanding of the Commissioners Court,” he said. “They said, ‘Let’s be aggressive.'”

The county and school districts in the county have offered tax incentives to attract the projects. Allred added there were also other factors contributing to the high performance of the first wind ranch and the building of the new one.

“No. 1, it takes the resource – the wind. God gave us that,” he said.

State Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, noted while the Wildorado projects will serve regional customers, coming development will send energy downstate. “We have figured out we have an exportable commodity,” he said.

The project will be capable of producing 78 megawatts of power, but that amount of power would require constant production at full capacity.

The installation should provide enough electricity to supply about 27,000 homes, according to Golden Spread.

Golden Spread comprises 16 member co-ops that serve more than 185,000 retail consumers in rural areas from Kansas to the Edwards Plateau area.