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Wind farm project runs into turbulence  

Credit:  By Lara Freeman | The New Falcon Herald | December 2013 | www.newfalconherald.com ~~

The proposed wind farm in Calhan, Colo., is making headway; however, some residents aren’t too happy about the project.

Golden West Power Partners, which is owned by Fowler Wind Energy, is managing the wind energy project, referred to as Golden West. There are plans to construct 147 turbines and an operations and maintenance building in Calhan.

Some landowners feel they haven’t been well-informed about the project; and they are concerned about safety issues and property values.

The El Paso County Planning Commission held a meeting Nov. 26. Landowners bordering the land-use areas for the turbines received a certified letter notifying them of the meeting.

In separate interviews with The New Falcon Herald, residents individually expressed their concerns.

Holly Reuter and her husband, Kim, local business and land owners, said the wind farm will detract from the aesthetic value of the land; and, along with some of their neighbors, are concerned their property values will decrease.

Mark Lowderman, county assessor, said assessors across the state haven’t seen any decreases in property values with homes located near other wind farms in Colorado. “The market makes the determinations,” Lowderman said. “We track sales countywide. It is something that may have an effect that isn’t located on the property itself. When I talk to other assessors who do have wind farms, they haven’t seen a reduction in sales prices, just because properties are near a wind farm.” The overhead transmission lines also do not appear to have an effect on sales prices. “The people who do buy properties there pay market value – they don’t pay something less,” he said.

Dean VandeBrake, a commercial pilot from Peyton, said he often gets questions from those aboard his flights about the wind farm in Limon, Colo.: “Every night I fly into the Springs, I get that question. What are all those lights – they are so close to town?” He said he is concerned about the maintenance of the wind farm and the plans to clean up the project. VandeBrake cited a situation in California relating to wind farms, as seen from the sky. “It’s an eyesore, seeing all the towers broken down, and now the state can’t afford to take them down because it would cost huge amounts of manpower and equipment,” he said. “If we have to go through this with the lights and the transmission lines, it had better work.” Otherwise, he said he is afraid the area could turn into a “junkyard.” Regular maintenance is a concern as well, he said.

David Hazel, project manager with Fowler Wind Energy, said they have plans in place to maintain the wind farm for the duration of its life and clean it up when they are done using it. “GE (General Electric) warranties the wind farm for five years,” Hazel said. “And the wind farm for its entire lifespan is monitored 24/7. The PPA (power purchase agreement) is for 25 years, so we have to hold up our end of the contract by producing energy for 25 years. During that lifespan, parts will have to be replaced. It’s like any machine – there will be ongoing maintenance. When the lifespan is up, we have to clean it up. It’s in our agreement with the county.” The mitigation plan is documented with the county, and mitigation costs will be covered by Fowler Wind Energy, Hazel said.

Rezoning is another issue of concern, said Suzanna VandeBrake. Craig Dossey, project manager for El Paso County Development Services Department, said that rezoning is “simply overlaying the existing zoning.” He said the existing zoning remains. “All the uses allowed under agricultural zoning don’t go away,” Dossey said. “They will have another layer of zoning that allows for the development of the project, specifically the components shown on the property. For example, the transmission line corridor. You can still farm and ranch it, there’s just an allowance for the turbines. It has to be in the specific locations on the plan – it can’t be just anywhere on the property. Anyone who wants to buy the property buys into the zoning.”

Additionally, the exact route line is dependent on whether landowners want the transmission line on their property, so in some cases the line has to go around some properties, Dossey said.

Golden West applied to the county under the 1041 permit process. “The name comes from House Bill 1041,” said Mark Gebhart of the El Paso County Planning Department. “It allows the board of county commissioners to be involved.”

According to Colorado.gov, 1041 “allows local governments to identify, designate, and regulate areas and activities of state interest through a local permitting process. The general intention of these powers is to allow for local governments to maintain their control over particular development projects, even where the development project has statewide impacts.”

Although Amy Lathen, county commissioner, attended the Nov. 26 planning meeting, she said commissioners cannot address the issue until the public hearing. “We are not allowed to discuss personal opinion until the public hearing when we can hear all sides,” Lathen said. “It would be a serious conflict of interest for us to go to a planning commission and interject anything.”

Lathen also said state statute dictates notification regulations. In this case, only landowners adjacent to the project received notification letters of the wind farm. “When you are talking about land use, you have to determine an impact area,” she said.

A public hearing on the wind farm in Calhan will be held at the county commissioners meeting Dec. 19.

Then, there is the issue of health.

“Radiation and EMF (electromagnetic field) are not the same thing,” Hazel said. “AM broadcasts (radio) will be affected if you’re right next to it. There is no evidence that at this level voltage there are any health concerns.” Hazel also addressed “line loss,” which is the percentage of energy lost during transmission from one location to another. “Line loss dissipates as heat,” said Hazel, as opposed to electric voltage. He said they will determine the actual line loss of this particular transmission line between the wind farm and the Jackson Fuller substation.

“Stray voltage” was brought up as a health concern as well.

According to the Pacific Gas and Oil Co., “Stray voltage is a small voltage (less than 10V as defined by the U.S Department of Agriculture) that can be measured between two possible contact points. When these two points are connected together by an object, such as a person or an animal, a current will flow. The amount of current depends on the voltage and the circuit impedance, which includes the source, contact and body … people and animals respond to the resulting current flow and not to the applied voltage.

“The transmission line will be properly grounded at every pole with a neutral conductor such that it will be operating in a safe fashion consistent with NESC requirements,” Hazel said. Each pole is a monopole, on average 80 feet high. “They will be shorter or taller depending on distance between poles,” he said.

Hazel said they chose the location for a couple reasons. “The Jackson Fuller substation is one of the reasons this plan works, economically. The proximity with the great wind resource and the substation is what makes this location ideal,” he said. It is a great wind resource because the topography and wind travel direction allows for ideal wind energy collection, Hazel added. “We are getting the maximum amount of winds in this location,” he said. Many wind studies are done throughout the country, but not every project develops into a wind farm. “You can usually find out if studies are being done by going to the county courthouse,” he said. “Until the Power Purchase Agreement was signed, we didn’t know if this would happen. We had nothing without that,” Hazel said. The PPA was signed in early November 2013.

Golden West hopes to have the project completed by the end of the year, so they can qualify for the federal government’s Production Tax Credit. Once they secure the approval of the rezoning and the 1041 permit, they will start construction in January 2014.

Source:  By Lara Freeman | The New Falcon Herald | December 2013 | www.newfalconherald.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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