The proposed wind farm in Calhan, Colo., is making headway; however, some residents aren’t too happy about the project.
Golden West Power Partners, which is owned by Fowler Wind Energy, is managing the wind energy project, referred to as Golden West. There are plans to construct 147 turbines and an operations and maintenance building in Calhan.
Some landowners feel they haven’t been well-informed about the project; and they are concerned about safety issues and property values.
The El Paso County Planning Commission held a meeting Nov. 26. Landowners bordering the land-use areas for the turbines received a certified letter notifying them of the meeting.
In separate interviews with The New Falcon Herald, residents individually expressed their concerns.
Holly Reuter and her husband, Kim, local business and land owners, said the wind farm will detract from the aesthetic value of the land; and, along with some of their neighbors, are concerned their property values will decrease.
Mark Lowderman, county assessor, said assessors across the state haven’t seen any decreases in property values with homes located near other wind farms in Colorado. “The market makes the determinations,” Lowderman said. “We track sales countywide. It is something that may have an effect that isn't located on the property itself. When I talk to other assessors who do have wind farms, they haven't seen a reduction in sales prices, just because properties are near a wind farm.” The overhead transmission lines also do not appear to have an effect on sales prices. “The people who do buy properties there pay market value – they don't pay something less,” he said.
Dean VandeBrake, a commercial pilot from Peyton, said he often gets questions from those aboard his flights about the wind farm in Limon, Colo.: “Every night I fly into the Springs, I get that question. What are all those lights – they are so close to town?” He said he is concerned about the maintenance of the wind farm and the plans to clean up the project. VandeBrake cited a situation in California relating to wind farms, as seen from the sky. “It’s an eyesore, seeing all the towers broken down, and now the state can't afford to take them down because it would cost huge amounts of manpower and equipment,” he said. “If we have to go through this with the lights and the transmission lines, it had better work.” Otherwise, he said he is afraid the area could turn into a “junkyard.” Regular maintenance is a concern as well, he said.
David Hazel, project manager with Fowler Wind Energy, said they have plans in place to maintain the wind farm for the duration of its life and clean it up when they are done using it. “GE (General Electric) warranties the wind farm for five years,” Hazel said. “And the wind farm for its entire lifespan is monitored 24/7. The PPA (power purchase agreement) is for 25 years, so we have to hold up our end of the contract by producing energy for 25 years. During that lifespan, parts will have to be replaced. It's like any machine – there will be ongoing maintenance. When the lifespan is up, we have to clean it up. It's in our agreement with the county.” The mitigation plan is documented with the county, and mitigation costs will be covered by Fowler Wind Energy, Hazel said.
Rezoning is another issue of concern, said Suzanna VandeBrake. Craig Dossey, project manager for El Paso County Development Services Department, said that rezoning is “simply overlaying the existing zoning.” He said the existing zoning remains. “All the uses allowed under agricultural zoning don't go away,” Dossey said. “They will have another layer of zoning that allows for the development of the project, specifically the components shown on the property. For example, the transmission line corridor. You can still farm and ranch it, there's just an allowance for the turbines. It has to be in the specific locations on the plan – it can't be just anywhere on the property. Anyone who wants to buy the property buys into the zoning.”
Additionally, the exact route line is dependent on whether landowners want the transmission line on their property, so in some cases the line has to go around some properties, Dossey said.
Golden West applied to the county under the 1041 permit process. “The name comes from House Bill 1041,” said Mark Gebhart of the El Paso County Planning Department. “It allows the board of county commissioners to be involved.”
According to Colorado.gov, 1041 “allows local governments to identify, designate, and regulate areas and activities of state interest through a local permitting process. The general intention of these powers is to allow for local governments to maintain their control over particular development projects, even where the development project has statewide impacts.”
Although Amy Lathen, county commissioner, attended the Nov. 26 planning meeting, she said commissioners cannot address the issue until the public hearing. “We are not allowed to discuss personal opinion until the public hearing when we can hear all sides,” Lathen said. “It would be a serious conflict of interest for us to go to a planning commission and interject anything.”
Lathen also said state statute dictates notification regulations. In this case, only landowners adjacent to the project received notification letters of the wind farm. “When you are talking about land use, you have to determine an impact area,” she said.
A public hearing on the wind farm in Calhan will be held at the county commissioners meeting Dec. 19.
Then, there is the issue of health.
“Radiation and EMF (electromagnetic field) are not the same thing,” Hazel said. “AM broadcasts (radio) will be affected if you're right next to it. There is no evidence that at this level voltage there are any health concerns.” Hazel also addressed “line loss,” which is the percentage of energy lost during transmission from one location to another. “Line loss dissipates as heat,” said Hazel, as opposed to electric voltage. He said they will determine the actual line loss of this particular transmission line between the wind farm and the Jackson Fuller substation.
“Stray voltage” was brought up as a health concern as well.
According to the Pacific Gas and Oil Co., “Stray voltage is a small voltage (less than 10V as defined by the U.S Department of Agriculture) that can be measured between two possible contact points. When these two points are connected together by an object, such as a person or an animal, a current will flow. The amount of current depends on the voltage and the circuit impedance, which includes the source, contact and body … people and animals respond to the resulting current flow and not to the applied voltage.
“The transmission line will be properly grounded at every pole with a neutral conductor such that it will be operating in a safe fashion consistent with NESC requirements,” Hazel said. Each pole is a monopole, on average 80 feet high. “They will be shorter or taller depending on distance between poles,” he said.
Hazel said they chose the location for a couple reasons. “The Jackson Fuller substation is one of the reasons this plan works, economically. The proximity with the great wind resource and the substation is what makes this location ideal,” he said. It is a great wind resource because the topography and wind travel direction allows for ideal wind energy collection, Hazel added. “We are getting the maximum amount of winds in this location,” he said. Many wind studies are done throughout the country, but not every project develops into a wind farm. “You can usually find out if studies are being done by going to the county courthouse,” he said. “Until the Power Purchase Agreement was signed, we didn't know if this would happen. We had nothing without that,” Hazel said. The PPA was signed in early November 2013.
Golden West hopes to have the project completed by the end of the year, so they can qualify for the federal government’s Production Tax Credit. Once they secure the approval of the rezoning and the 1041 permit, they will start construction in January 2014.
Editor’s note: Read the “chamber update” in Business Briefs for more information on the wind project. The information in the sidebar to this article – “Wind farm foes organize” – came in just a few days before the NFH deadline. There is much more information available on both sides of the fence regarding wind farms; thus, we will run a series on the pros and cons of wind farms, including health issues, in the next couple of months (as we keep you updated on the progress of Golden West).
Wind farm foes organize
A few days before Thanksgiving, Laura Wilson, who lives outside of Calhan, received an unsigned email notice about a meeting that was being held that evening for residents opposed to the wind farm energy project in Calhan. Others, also opposed, had received the email, too, so a group of them went to the meeting. Wilson said Golden West Power Partners was hosting the meeting, which was intended for residents supporting the project. Wilson said she didn’t know why she and others received the email, but their questions to Golden West sparked a heated – what she described as “hostile” – discussion with the supporters of the project. “We were treated like party crashers,” Wilson said.
The group plans to organize to formally address the issues they have with the Golden West project.
Wilson is a radio talk show host, and on Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 she is hosting Lisa Linowes, the executive director for The WindAction Group, a national organization that researches and reports on the impacts wind energy has on the environment, economy and quality of life.
Linowes is a conservationist and land-use advocate with 20 years of business experience. She has appeared on CNN, National Public Radio and the CBS Evening News, along with being featured in newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post. Linowes also manages the website – http://windaction.org – where she shares news articles and research pertaining to wind energy.
The Highland Perspective is the name of Wilson’s radio show, and the Thursday evening Dec. 12 interview with Linowes is at 7 p.m. on the Revelation Radio Network.org. The Saturday morning Dec. 14 interview is at 10 a.m. on the Microeffect Radio Network.com and on Galaxy 19 Satellite.
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Proposition AA on the November ballot passed overwhelmingly statewide: 65 percent in favor to 35 percent opposed. The measure set a 25 percent tax on recreational marijuana sales in areas that allow retail sales. The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners voted to ban retail sales within unincorporated areas, but commissioners want a share of the tax revenue the other counties earn.
Amendment 64, which passed in 2012 allowing personal use of marijuana under Colorado law, required an additional ballot measure setting the tax rate. The passing of Proposition AA did not change the time line for opening recreational retail stores or the state level legalization of personal possession and use. The first retail marijuana establishments are expected to open in January.
“We do not have any plans at this time to opt in for any sales,” said Amy Lathen, El Paso County commissioner. “Even though we opted out of allowing sales in the county, we will still have enforcement, employment, workforce, public health and sheriff costs that will be heavily impacted by the increased use of marijuana in our county, even if purchased elsewhere.” El Paso County officials will ask the state to consider distributing any tax revenue based on impacts, not just whether they opted in for sales, she said.
Rep. Jonathan Singer of Boulder, Colo., told Howard Singer of Channel 4 KCNC in Denver on Oct. 28, “To say this late in the game 'well, we want tax money for something we're not willing to tax or regulate in our own district’ is a little hypocritical.” Singer sponsored the house bill that became Proposition AA.
The decrease in business taxes to the county also needs to be offset by those benefiting from sales, she said. “The No. 1 concern among primary employers who were considering moving here was workforce. What profession out there wants people to work with them when they're feeling at one with the furniture?”
In April 2014, the Department of Revenue, cities and counties will meet to discuss how revenue will be distributed among the counties and cities. Lathen said area governments and businesses should not count on tax revenues or retail sale profits. “If the administration changes at the federal level, and the feds come in to enforce existing federal laws; boy, I would not want to be a dispensary owner or someone counting on this revenue,” she said.