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10-hour public hearing ends with approval that paves way for 37,000-acre El Paso County wind farm

December 19, 2013 Updated: December 19, 2013 at 9:10 pm
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Thursday's vote by the El Paso County Commissioners paves the way for a wind farm, like this one near Beaumont, Kan., to be built near Calhan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

It's like living under an airport where the planes never land.

That's how one person who spoke against a proposed windmill farm in east El Paso County described living near turbines during Tuesday's board of County Commissioners meeting.

"I live under one of these, and my dream of living in a peaceful place is gone," the she said.

Now that dream is lost for other El Paso County residents as well after commissioners voted 3 to 1 to approve an overlay zoning ordinance that allows the construction of a 147 turbine, 37,000-acre wind farm to be constructed within 1,000 feet of at least 18 rural homes southeast of Calhan.

Commissioner Amy Lathen cast the dissenting vote, and Commissioner Darryl Glenn was absent.

About 20 people spoke in support of the wind farm while more than 10 who were opposed spoke during a meeting that started at 9 a.m. and ended at about 8 p.m., only stopping twice for 30-minute meal breaks.

The wind farm is expected to create 250-megawatts of electricity for Public Service of Colorado customers, a subsidiary of Excel, for the next 25 years, said Energy Renewal Partners CEO Greg Nelson.

At least three people who spoke in favor of the wind farm said it would allow them to keep their ranches by providing extra income. One landowner previously stated that her family is now receiving $500 a month for the allowing the farm on her property. She said that amount will could increase to up to $10,000 a year when additional windmills are built.

But Larry Mott, with General Engineering Science and Technology Group told commissioners before the vote that the project was neither economically, environmentally, or people friendly. He said it will take 73,500 cubic yards of concrete and more than 12 million gallons of water to install the turbines, including dust mitigation.

"And a truck mounted, 100 megawatt gas turbine replaces all of it," he said, "and it doesn't require 25,000 acres of El Paso County land."

Before the vote, Scott Campbell voiced the concerns of officials from the Palmer Land Trust, which oversees the Paint Mines Interpretive Park, about the height of the wind turbines.

The turbines reach 437 feet tall when the blades are extended upward, nearly twice the height of downtown Colorado Springs' Wells Fargo tower. Campbell asked commissioners to not pass the project without moving seven of the wind turbines farther away from the paint mines.

One of those turbines would is planned to be 800 feet from the mines. Campbell said the closeness of the turbines would destroy not only the mine's view, but people's desire to donate money to public land trusts, who might interpret the closeness of the turbines as overseers inability to protect Colorado Springs' open space.

Commissioner Amy Lathen also expressed concerns about the wind farms location to some of the houses.

"(When) you consider the noise influence and shadow flicker," she aid, "I think being this close to a residence is problematic."

But Nelson said the proposed placements of each windmill met county setback requirements.

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