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Colorado State U. abandons major wind-farm project

A couple of years ago, Colorado State University announced that it planned to set up a large-scale wind farm on ranch land that had been donated to the university in the 1950s. With the help of a private developer and power-purchase agreements, it would set up about 75 turbines to produce 150 megawatts of electricity.

The result could have been the largest renewable power project associated with a university—and Colorado State was interested in developing wind-power-research programs at the site.

But the university said last week that the wind-farm plan is dead for now. Technical and financial challenges, it seems, got in the way.

William H. Farland, vice president for research, said that the university had signed a lease agreement in the spring with the Cannon Power Group, a wind-energy developer, giving Cannon nine months to conduct a feasibility study. But the study turned up various problems with the site and the plan. Among them, he said, were the current financial markets and Federal Aviation Administration regulations, which would have had the agency scrutinizing the height and location of every tower.

Another challenge was the the lack of electrical-transmission capacity to other colleges, with which Colorado State hoped to set up power-purchase agreements. Cannon would also have sold power to the local utility, for transmission to homes and businesses.

“Those transmission lines are crowded right now and are not due for upgrades for a several more years at the earliest,” Mr. Farland said.

David Newport, sustainability director at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said transmission capacity was a major hurdle for renewable-energy projects in Colorado.

“We appreciated the opportunity to work with CSU on our mutual interests to cut carbon emissions to zero,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle. “In the future, we see the value in a united approach to get the fiscal and regulatory framework in place to enable utility-scale renewable energy to be acquired and transmitted to all Colorado education facilities.”

Mr. Farland said that Colorado State may consider doing a smaller wind-power installation on the ranch land, but that details have not been worked out.

The dissolution of the wind-power plan has impact on CSU’s sustainability image. When the plan was announced, Larry Penley, who was then president of the university, predicted that it would be carbon-neutral by 2020, without using offsets. Wind power was essential to meeting that goal.

Now some graphs in the university’s climate-action plan shows that it may reach neutrality in 2050, with lots of uncertainties. “We’re not setting a date for carbon neutrality,” Mr. Farland said. “As much as we would have liked to meet Dr. Penley’s aspirations, I think the economy has worked against us.”