The U.S. Department of Energy is proposing a major expansion of the National Wind Technology Center south of Boulder, but the actual project, if approved, likely is more than a year away as officials seek public input.
The expansion proposal comes at a time when Vestas Wind Systems has announced a series of layoffs at its facilities in Louisville, Brighton, Windsor and Pueblo – and just before a federal tax credit on electricity generated from wind is due to expire in December, pitting Democrats against Republicans.
George Douglas, a spokesman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, dismissed any political motivation in the timing of the DOE letter, calling it “entirely coincidental.”
“These environmental assessments take a long time to complete,” Douglas said. “This is a chance for governments and businesses and people who live nearby to express any concerns. It’s all very open and transparent.
“If there comes a time when DOE and Congress say let’s do this or let’s do a piece of this, the environmental work will have already been done.”
Sandy Butterfield, chief technology officer at Boulder Wind Power in Louisville and a former engineer at NREL, called the possible expansion “a significant statement about where DOE thinks wind energy could go. Obviously, wind is going to play a role in the future.”
A department letter dated Wednesday envisions an expansion of operations at NREL’s 305-acre site, adding a variable number of wind turbines to the 16 currently at the center.
The proposal also calls for installing up to 30 meteorological towers, as well as constructing a 40,000-square-foot research-and-development laboratory and a 25,000-square-foot conference- and-learning facility.
On Thursday, the DOE opened a 30-day window for public comment on the proposal, called “scoping.” It then would draft an environmental-assessment report, and public input would be sought on that as well.
Lori Gray, the DOE’s National Environmental Policy Act compliance officer, emphasized Thursday that scoping is the first step in a long process.
“This proposed expansion may or may not come to fruition,” she said. ” We conduct NEPA reviews for projects all over the country, and not all of them will ever be put into place. The time frame for completing a draft environmental assessment is about 12 months or longer, so we are at the very initial stage of that process.”
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