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Graham Co. approves wind farm

HILL CITY – The reality of a wind farm in Graham County took a step closer last week when Graham County commissioners approved a conditional-use permit for Ringneck Prairie Wind Farm.

The 70-megawatt farm, to be located 6 miles south of Hill City, is on pace to be fully commissioned by the end of 2014, according to Kirk Schweitzer, director of Graham County Economic Development.

There is still power to sell and details to work out, but Tuesday’s approval of the CUP and road and payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements is another sign the project is on track.

“I really think it’s a good opportunity for our county,” said Roger Davignon, Graham County Commission chairman. “I think the community’s really behind it.”

He said comments during the public hearing prior to approval were positive and many landowners will benefit from the project.

Work on the wind farm could begin this fall. Schweitzer said road work, pad sites, underground power lines and other steps could be completed in the fall, with towers going up next spring.

“We don’t envision this as being the end of this,” Schweitzer said, adding research will continue into expansion of the project.

Jobs will be created during construction of the wind farm, and Schweitzer said eight jobs will remain in Hill City following completion of the project, including six maintenance personnel, a project administrator and an assistant.

Research into the possibility of a wind farm begin in fall 2008, with the economic development office taking the lead. It contracted with Wind Energy Consulting and Construction to have a wind study conducted in the county.

“It gave us five regions in the county that essentially … were good quality areas for wind development,” Schweitzer said.

Wind data collected from four meteorological towers across the county was promising, with peak wind data drawing a lot of interest from developers, Schweitzer said. Eventually, Nordex USA signed on as the project developer.

The company will return to Graham County in the next few weeks to conduct soil samples and determine exact locations for the towers during a final site assessment, Schweitzer said.