On Feb. 5, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve a request from NextEra Energy Resources to establish a new Wind and/or Energy Solar Generation Plan Overlay District as part of the Golden West Wind Energy Project. The commissioners originally approved an overlay district for the project on Dec. 19, 2013, when the project belonged to Fowler Energy; however, NextEra purchased the project later that month.
The overlay district is the area where the project will be built, which calls for additional requirements and standards for wind or solar energy. The overlay district plans include the reconfiguration of siting for almost all of the 145 turbines; increasing the maximum height of the turbines from 427 to 453 feet; rerouting a portion of the approved transmission line corridor near Falcon; and relocating and reconfiguring the project substation, operations and maintenance facility, the lay-down yard (the area used during construction to park vehicles and store equipment) and temporary batch plant sites.
The BOCC also unanimously approved NextEra’s request to amend the previously approved 1041 permit amendment application for the construction of the project. The commissioners also initially approved this item in December 2013.
Approval of these items meant approval of the highly controversial overhead transmission lines. According to the February issue of The New Falcon Herald, the original plan called for 3.75 miles of the overall 25 miles of transmission line to be buried. David Gil, NextEra project developer, said the company had identified a number of issues and concerns about that portion of the line when they purchased it in 2013, the article states.
Amy Lathen, county commissioner, voted against the wind farm in 2013 but voted for the changes at the February meeting. “I did not support the wind farm,” she said. “I still think the turbines are too close to the residences. But we did not have the ability to consider that item. The (transmission line) reroute was the only issue we could consider.”
The commissioners could not address the previously approved permits, Lathen said. “We could not under the law consider revoking the 1040 permit,” she said. “Once it is approved as a land use item, if it is to be reconsidered, one of the commissioners who voted in the affirmative has to bring the motion to reconsider. I cannot do that because I did not vote in the affirmative.”
Lathen said it became clear that the request was going to be approved, based on the comments that the other commissioners made.
Gil said the commissioners made a good decision based on the criteria the request needed to meet. “There were a lot of extremely happy people about the decision, and some people were disappointed,” he said. “I think the decision corresponded with the criteria.”
Ice throws still a concern
Larry Mott, an engineer and president of G.E.S Tech Group Inc., said the previously approved turbine setback of 679.5 feet is not sufficient to prevent the risk of damage to persons or property because of ice throws.
General Electric is the manufacturer of the wind turbines NextEra plans to use; and, according to a GE safety manual, wind turbines can accumulate ice under certain atmospheric conditions, such as ambient temperatures near freezing combined with high relative humidity, freezing rain or sleet. If the ambient temperature, wind or solar radiation then increases, sheets or fragments of ice could loosen and fall, the manual states.
“In addition, rotating turbine blades may propel ice fragments some distance from the turbine – up to several hundred meters if conditions are right,” the manual states. Additionally, the manual suggests several risk mitigation practices, to include locating turbines a safe distance from any occupied structure, road or public use area.
The formula included in the GE manual to determine the setback distance is as follows: 1.5 x (hub height [in feet] + rotor diameter [in feet]).
Based on the specifications of the GE turbine as listed in the NextEra project submittal package, the rotor diameter is 338 feet. The hub height is listed as 262.5 feet. Using the formula, the recommended setback is 900.75 feet.
“In my professional opinion, as an expert in the field of alternative and conventional energy, the 680-foot setback is based on fitting the turbines into El Paso County,” Mott said. “If you went the recommended 900 feet, the project would not fit because there are too many houses and roads. This presents a life safety issue.”
Wind farm energy rates
In the February issue of the NFH, Mott said that NextEra sold the wind farm as a 250 megawatt facility. “The name plate rating on the wind farm is 250 megawatts,” he said. “That is based on a combination of GE 1.7 and 2.0 turbines that NextEra will be using, which refers to 1.7 or 2.0 megawatts, multiplied by 145 turbines, which gives you the 250 megawatt number.”
Mott said the turbines could only ever produce the advertised name plate rating if the following is true: The wind farm is at sea level; there are maximum wind conditions, which he said are higher than what the Calhan area experiences; and, with no energy losses such as the configuration of the turbines.
“The effective load carrying capacity means that the only load that can be reliably planned for, or that this wind farm can effectively carry, is 12.5 percent of the exaggerated name plate amount,” Mott said. Accounting for all the losses that occur in an array (group) configuration as well as the location, the real power rating should be 104 megawatts, not 250 megawatts, he said.
Mott said that the real power rating is actually much lower because wind power is non-dispatchable, meaning it is not reliable as an on-demand energy source. Taking that into account, the actual rating should be 31.25 megawatts, or 12.5 percent of the 250 megawatt advertised name plate rating.
During the BOCC meeting, Gil said the 12.5 percent effective load carrying capacity is just a formula that companies use for planning purposes. “That is unrelated to the actual energy production of the wind farm,” he said. “This project, on average, produces somewhere in the high 40s in terms of percent and sometimes even 50 percent of the 250 megawatts on a normal basis.”
Bill Dalton, an engineer with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, said the 12.5 percent rating is used for planning purposes only. “That is the model that has been used for years,” he said. “It is part of the energy resource plan and is based on the historical performance of wind farms during peak summertime hours. Energy companies can plan for that percentage during those times; but, hypothetically, it could be 40 percent of the 250 megawatts for each of the 8,760 hours per year, on average.”
Forcing their hand?
During the BOCC meeting, Kevin Gildea, NextEra regional director, said that, according to their contract with Xcel Energy (the company that will sell the energy produced by the wind farm), NextEra has the right to walk away from the project if the “optimization” they were looking for was not approved.
“NextEra said on record that if we didn’t approve it, they would pull the project and sue the county,” Lathen said.
“There was no lawsuit discussed, and there were definitely no threats made,” Gil said.
Gil said that NextEra plans to start construction of the project April 1, with an anticipated finish date by the end of 2015.
Laura Wilson, Kris Renick and Gavin Wince serve as the executive committee of the newly formed El Paso County Property Rights Coalition. They held a public meeting in February to determine what, if anything, can be done to appeal the BOCC’s decision.
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