Wind farm gains commissioners’ approval; $1 billion project will take shape in southeast part of Elbert County
In a public hearing that ended in applause from the nearly 100 attendees, the Elbert County Board of Commissioners approved applications from Rush Creek Wind Farm and Xcel Energy to build a $1 billion wind farm and accompanying transmission lines in southeast Elbert County between Simla and Limon.
“I don’t think anyone has seen a nearly billion-dollar project walk into Elbert County in their lifetime,” Commissioner Chris Richardson said.
The commissioners approved the project by a vote of 3-0 on Jan. 25.
Krista Mann, representative for Rush Creek Wind Energy, said all landowner agreements have been made. She presented PowerPoint slides to illustrate that the project will comply with Elbert County’s regulations, including road use and setbacks of the turbines from residential structures. The project will also meet Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s recommendations for setbacks for all avian species.
In addition to leasing the land for the project, Xcel Energy is purchasing 40 acres in Elbert County specifically for the operation and maintenance building, collector substation and switchyard.
There will be up to 210 turbines on 72,000 acres of property within Elbert County.
Susan Innis, Xcel Energy manager of siting and land rights, gave a presentation detailing the routes and appearance of the transmission line structures.
According to Mann, projected tax benefits to Elbert County are estimated at $2 million annually. The revenue from the Rush Creek Wind Farm will directly benefit Elbert County and its residents, Mann said.
The counties of Elbert, Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Lincoln and Arapahoe will be affected by the wind farm development, which has two sections of turbines – white three-bladed windmills – and transmission lines running on the five counties.
Although no date was given, it was indicated that come this spring, the entire project will be sold by Invenergy, owner of the wind farm portion of the project, to Xcel Energy.
When given the opportunity to comment and ask questions, more than a dozen residents stood to speak. The overall sentiment regarding the applications for the project was that the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Simla resident Larry Durner said that despite apparent efforts by the Rush Creek Wind Farm developers to reach the community, he hadn’t heard of the project until a month-and-a-half ago.
“My concern is with the aesthetics to the ridgeline south of Highway 24…Is it possible this is in conflict with Elbert County’s master plan?” he asked the board.
Bill Harris, of Simla, noted that residents of southeastern Elbert County generally require less assistance compared to those in other areas of the county. Since the wind farm will be located there, he stated concerns about how those residents might benefit from the projected revenue.
“We don’t need much except to be left alone,” he joked as the room laughed with him.
Harris and Superintendent Steve Wilson of Big Sandy Schools suggested road creation and repair.
“The muddy roads have caused school closures on several occasions, twice on the last day of school the past two years,” Wilson said. “A bus sunk to the axle in the middle of the mud a couple years ago,” he said.
In addition to the tax benefits, long-term economic gain for the county includes job creation, with 20 to 30 maintenance workers and six to eight Xcel Energy employees, according to senior media representative for Xcel Energy Mark Stutz.
Kevin Turecek, who owns land in the project area, came to the microphone saying that although the aesthetics of power lines didn’t excite him, the words of his grandmother ran through his mind.
“The most beautiful thing I ever seen,” he said, quoting her, “was that power line coming to my house.”
Construction is slated to begin this spring and be completed by October 2018.
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