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El Paso County wind farm project’s new owner eyes springs 2015 construction start

Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc., the nation’s largest producer of renewable energy, has acquired the proposed Golden West wind farm in northeast El Paso County, with plans to begin construction next spring and start generating power by the end of 2015.

The purchase is part of a major expansion in Colorado by the $15.1 billion company, which operates five wind farms near Limon and in Logan County in northeast Colorado. Together, they generate 975 megawatts of power, or just 100 megawatts less than the total generating capacity of Colorado Springs Utilities.

The company is building a third wind farm near Limon that will generate 200 megawatts of power by year’s end, and is planning a wind farm near Burlington that would generate 150 megawatts.

NextEra bought the Golden West project from Fowler Wind Energy of Moline, Ill. about six months ago. The purchase includes leases with about 100 landowners for up to 153 wind turbine tower locations and the corridor for a 25-mile transmission line to connect the wind farm with the power grid.

The sale came just 12 days after the El Paso County Board of Commissioners approved the project, which will generate 250 megawatts of electricity for customers of Xcel Energy Inc.’s Public Service Co. of Colorado unit. El Paso County residents, who are served by Colorado Springs Utilities and other providers, will not receive any power from the project.

“When we look at a wind project, we are looking for a location with good wind, customers (landowners) who are willing to be our partner and host turbines, a customer to buy the power and access to high-voltage transmission systems,” said NextEra spokesman Steve Stengel. “This project had all four, and Colorado is a very pro-wind state where we have a lot of experience there, so it made sense for us to get involved with this project.”

NextEra had looked at acquiring the project several times since Clipper Windpower Development Co. Inc. began trying to develop the wind farm in 2007, and quickly jumped into the bidding once the Golden West project hit the market in December, said David Gil, NextEra’s project director for the El Paso County wind farm.

NextEra officials met Monday in Calhan with many of the 100 landowners who have agreed to lease land to the company for turbines or the transmission line to brief them on its plans for building and operating the wind farm, Gil said. The company still must get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense to build the 427-foot-high towers to avoid interfering with airport flight patterns, radar and other navigation equipment, he said.

The company plans to spend $400 million and employ 400 to build the wind farm, which – along with the transmission line – would be built on 25,000 acres south of U.S. Highway 24 between Calhan and Ramah. NextEra doesn’t plan to borrow money to build the wind farm, but could package the project later with several other wind farms or other renewable energy projects to secure additional financing through a bond offering or loans, Gil said.

NextEra owns Florida Power & Light and employs 13,900 people. It operates 14 coal, natural gas and oil plants, eight nuclear plants, seven solar plants and about 100 wind farms in 26 states and four Canadian provinces.

Last year, the company earned $1.91 billion, or $4.47 a share, on $15.1 billion in revenue with profits declining slightly from a year earlier, despite a 6.2 percent increase in revenue during the same period.