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Calhan wind farm situation remains unresolved; Nextera says turbines are within safety guidelines

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – An El Paso County commissioner said Thursday that safety and health concerns regarding the Nextera wind farm in Calhan may never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

“I don’t know that it’s within our authority to consider at this point in time,” said Commissioner Mark Waller. “It’s been approved. The process has already taken place to allow Nextera to operate a wind farm.”

Ever since the wind farm opened last fall, a small but vocal group of current and former neighbors has expressed concern that noise, other types of sound called infrasound and shadow flicker from turbine blades have sickened people and animals.

“I had to move away because I was sick,” said Jeff Wolfe. “My wife stays behind to care for our animals and she’s getting sick. I put my life savings into our home.”

Wolfe said 10 to 15 families have moved away from Calhan because of the situation.

Commissioners on Thursday held a hearing on the matter that lasted nearly four hours.

John Dailey, a Nextera spokesman, declined an interview request from KRDO NewsChannel 13 to explain what else besides the wind farm could be affecting health.

But in a presentation during the hearing, Dailey cited Nextera studies, and research from two consultants, which state the wind farm is well within the health and safety guidelines established in the company’s permit from the county.

“Generally speaking, (any) complaints (or) impacts have been attributed to infrasound, which is a form of noise,” he said. “We’ve received complaints of that nature from four or five individuals – some of them, multiple times.”

Several Nextera critics said they conducted their own research, including a study by a Boulder-based acoustics expert who suggested the wind farm should close.

Commissioners said they don’t have enough information yet to decide what, if any, action to take.

“We’re going to hold Nextera accountable to make sure they’re meeting their obligations,” Waller said. “We’re trying to be unbiased about the situation. This is the first time we as a commission (with two new members) are learning about the history of the situation and the level of concern.”

At an undetermined future hearing, commissioners said they want to learn more about how Nextera responds to complaints from neighbors.

Some neighbors said Nextera is slow to respond or hasn’t responded at all, and criticized commissioners for their lack of action.

Commissioners Darryl Glenn and Longinos Gonzalez Jr., both asked upset neighbors to follow an established complaint process.

“It’s extremely important because it’s an obligation that we’re held to,” Glenn said. “We can’t hold Nextera responsible for not doing what they’re (supposed to) if the complaint hasn’t been submitted (properly).”

Dailey said Nextera will work harder to communicate with affected neighbors, and that the company wants to see the results of the private research presented at the hearing.

The wind farm has 145 turbines and a 29-mile transmission line. The company sells electricity to Xcel Energy.