Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Wind farm is on fast track

by WAYNE HEILMAN wayneh@gazette.com - Updated: November 15, 2013 at 6:07 pm

An Illinois company is seeking approval from El Paso County to build a $400 million wind farm between Calhan and Ramah that would generate as much electricity as the Martin Drake Power Plant for utility giant Xcel Energy Inc.

Golden West Power Partners LLC of Moline, Ill., plans for the wind farm to have 147 turbines atop 425-foot towers on nearly 25,000 acres south of U.S. 24. Construction would start in April or May, and electricity generation would begin in mid-2015, said Matthew Cumberworth Sr., Golden West's director of wind energy services.

Golden West bought rights in February for the El Paso County project and four others in Iowa, New York and Oklahoma from Clipper Windpower Development Co. Inc., which had been trying to develop the project since 2007.

"This project is a unique opportunity because the wind resource is good, it is in the right location, the legislation is right and the wind blows at the right time," Cumberworth said. "The site has good consistent wind - about 18 mph to the south southwest at 262 feet."

The project is on a fast track with the county. Golden West's initial application was filed Nov. 6 and the county Planning Commission is scheduled to consider zoning changes and other required approvals Nov. 26. The El Paso County Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing Dec. 19.

Cumberworth expects the project to breeze through.

"Public acceptance of the project has been excellent. We have not run into much opposition, and everyone has been supportive," he said.

But at least one person is against it. Gail Hahn, who lives near the site of the wind farm, said she opposes the project because it will ruin the panoramic view from her home, and she believes it will reduce the value of her property.

El Paso County Planning Department staff have recommended approval of the project with 37 conditions, including mitigating interference with a transmitter for radio station KKCS-FM in Calhan and a nearby Doppler radar installation.

In an agreement that spans 25 years, Xcel will buy all 250 megawatts the El Paso County wind farm will produce, beginning in June 2015. The purchase is part of a plan that Excel proposed in September to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to add 450 megawatts of wind power, 170 megawatts of solar power and 317 megawatts generated from natural gas. Xcel also plans to close a 109-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Denver.

The plan adds "significant amounts of wind and solar energy to the system at the right price, and it makes good sense for our customers and the environment," said David Eves, president and CEO of Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel subsidiary based in Denver.

Cumberworth estimated the agreement between Golden West and Xcel would save the utility's customers $100 million from the cost they would have shouldered to fuel and operate the coal plant, as well as meet new emissions requirements for coal-burning facilities.

He said construction of the wind farm is expected to create 260 jobs during the time the facility is built, and 10 to 12 permanent jobs once it begins operation.

Cumberworth said Golden West has leased land from 121 property owners for the project.

Electricity generated from the wind farm will be carried over a 25-mile transmission line with 100-foot towers between a Golden West-operated substation near Calhan and another substation in northeastern Colorado Springs.

Clipper began selling off its wind farm projects after it was sold last year to Platinum Equity LLC.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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