The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners and the Colorado Springs City Council are teaming up to create a Community Advisory Board on Food Policy. Lawmakers expect the advisory board to improve coordination among government bodies, civic organizations and research resources to improve supply and access to locally grown nutritious food.
“Food deserts” are lower income neighborhoods where residents have little access to fresh and whole food markets, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA's Food Research Atlas shows much of rural El Paso County, east of Curtis Road and south of Judge Orr to be out of a convenient range of whole food providers. In urban parts of Colorado Springs, lower income areas more than 1 mile from fresh groceries are also labeled food deserts.
Residents in food desert areas rely on local fast food and convenience stores that tend to provide processed sugar and fat-laden foods, which contribute to the nation's obesity epidemic, according to the American Nutrition Association.
“We have such a poor food system that community members don't have the money to buy fresh food, which is contributing to our chronic health care issues,” said Jill Gaebler, Springs City Council member. Gaebler has been working for more than a year to create the advisory board. “We as tax payers are paying more for health care,” she said. “It's a cycle, and I'm tired of it. We have a lot of policy around air and water, and it's time we start looking at policy in food.”
The new board's members will provide ongoing analysis and recommendations to local governments regarding policies, programs, operations and land use regulations affecting local food issues, according to the county proclamation. The group will be an advisory body, and will not have rule making authority.
“It's important to remember that the board will only recommend policies to City Council and county commissioners,” Gaebler said. “The council members don't have the time to do a deep dive into food policy research. We need a board to look into those policies and make recommendations for changes. At that point, we and the county have a stakeholder process to see if they wanted to move changes forward.”
Local urban market gardeners and the county extension officer praised the effort to create the board. At the January BOCC meeting, Barbara Bates, county director of the Colorado State University Extension, said the Pikes Peak region only produces 1 to 2 percent of its own food. “If we can create better private property rights policies around allowing people to have greenhouses, we can grow in all four seasons,” Gaebler said. “Land owners should have more control over their property.”
Christine Faith, who runs Ivywild Farm in Colorado Springs and the urban agriculture organization Right to Thrive, said existing local food resources and groups are working on similar problems but not working in the same direction. Faith said the advisory board will help provide direction for the community to come together and allow people to do more for themselves.
“The group will be able to troubleshoot where the breaks in the system are and talk to the people who can make the changes,” Faith said. “I feel in part because of our water situation and sprawling growth that we've lost more agriculture than most other places. Of the places I've been, Colorado Springs is struggling the most to keep a robust local food system going.”
County commissioners expect that the new advisory board will seek to reduce barriers to local food growth. At the meeting, Amy Lathen, county commissioner, said, “I look forward to seeing the recommendations that will come out of this board, so people can have more flexibility in what they can do at home. I look forward to us being able to not get in the way of that.”
“This is not in any sense to say that government is responsible for feeding the hungry; this is about reduction of barriers,” said Peggy Littleton, commissioner.
The city will vote in March on an ordinance to create the board itself, Gaebler said. If approved, community members will be able to find information about how to apply for the board on the city and county websites. “It's not a party we're throwing for ourselves,” Faith said. “The intention is to create a space for the community to come forward.”
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On Feb. 5, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve a request from NextEra Energy Resources to establish a new Wind and/or Energy Solar Generation Plan Overlay District as part of the Golden West Wind Energy Project. The commissioners originally approved an overlay district for the project on Dec. 19, 2013, when the project belonged to Fowler Energy; however, NextEra purchased the project later that month.
The overlay district is the area where the project will be built, which calls for additional requirements and standards for wind or solar energy. The overlay district plans include the reconfiguration of siting for almost all of the 145 turbines; increasing the maximum height of the turbines from 427 to 453 feet; rerouting a portion of the approved transmission line corridor near Falcon; and relocating and reconfiguring the project substation, operations and maintenance facility, the lay-down yard (the area used during construction to park vehicles and store equipment) and temporary batch plant sites.
The BOCC also unanimously approved NextEra’s request to amend the previously approved 1041 permit amendment application for the construction of the project. The commissioners also initially approved this item in December 2013.
Approval of these items meant approval of the highly controversial overhead transmission lines. According to the February issue of The New Falcon Herald, the original plan called for 3.75 miles of the overall 25 miles of transmission line to be buried. David Gil, NextEra project developer, said the company had identified a number of issues and concerns about that portion of the line when they purchased it in 2013, the article states.
Amy Lathen, county commissioner, voted against the wind farm in 2013 but voted for the changes at the February meeting. “I did not support the wind farm,” she said. “I still think the turbines are too close to the residences. But we did not have the ability to consider that item. The (transmission line) reroute was the only issue we could consider.”
The commissioners could not address the previously approved permits, Lathen said. “We could not under the law consider revoking the 1040 permit,” she said. “Once it is approved as a land use item, if it is to be reconsidered, one of the commissioners who voted in the affirmative has to bring the motion to reconsider. I cannot do that because I did not vote in the affirmative.”
Lathen said it became clear that the request was going to be approved, based on the comments that the other commissioners made.
Gil said the commissioners made a good decision based on the criteria the request needed to meet. “There were a lot of extremely happy people about the decision, and some people were disappointed,” he said. “I think the decision corresponded with the criteria.”
Ice throws still a concern
Larry Mott, an engineer and president of G.E.S Tech Group Inc., said the previously approved turbine setback of 679.5 feet is not sufficient to prevent the risk of damage to persons or property because of ice throws.
General Electric is the manufacturer of the wind turbines NextEra plans to use; and, according to a GE safety manual, wind turbines can accumulate ice under certain atmospheric conditions, such as ambient temperatures near freezing combined with high relative humidity, freezing rain or sleet. If the ambient temperature, wind or solar radiation then increases, sheets or fragments of ice could loosen and fall, the manual states.
“In addition, rotating turbine blades may propel ice fragments some distance from the turbine — up to several hundred meters if conditions are right,” the manual states. Additionally, the manual suggests several risk mitigation practices, to include locating turbines a safe distance from any occupied structure, road or public use area.
The formula included in the GE manual to determine the setback distance is as follows: 1.5 x (hub height [in feet] + rotor diameter [in feet]).
Based on the specifications of the GE turbine as listed in the NextEra project submittal package, the rotor diameter is 338 feet. The hub height is listed as 262.5 feet. Using the formula, the recommended setback is 900.75 feet.
“In my professional opinion, as an expert in the field of alternative and conventional energy, the 680-foot setback is based on fitting the turbines into El Paso County,” Mott said. “If you went the recommended 900 feet, the project would not fit because there are too many houses and roads. This presents a life safety issue.”
Wind farm energy rates
In the February issue of the NFH, Mott said that NextEra sold the wind farm as a 250 megawatt facility. “The name plate rating on the wind farm is 250 megawatts,” he said. “That is based on a combination of GE 1.7 and 2.0 turbines that NextEra will be using, which refers to 1.7 or 2.0 megawatts, multiplied by 145 turbines, which gives you the 250 megawatt number.”
Mott said the turbines could only ever produce the advertised name plate rating if the following is true: The wind farm is at sea level; there are maximum wind conditions, which he said are higher than what the Calhan area experiences; and, with no energy losses such as the configuration of the turbines.
“The effective load carrying capacity means that the only load that can be reliably planned for, or that this wind farm can effectively carry, is 12.5 percent of the exaggerated name plate amount,” Mott said. Accounting for all the losses that occur in an array (group) configuration as well as the location, the real power rating should be 104 megawatts, not 250 megawatts, he said.
Mott said that the real power rating is actually much lower because wind power is non-dispatchable, meaning it is not reliable as an on-demand energy source. Taking that into account, the actual rating should be 31.25 megawatts, or 12.5 percent of the 250 megawatt advertised name plate rating.
During the BOCC meeting, Gil said the 12.5 percent effective load carrying capacity is just a formula that companies use for planning purposes. “That is unrelated to the actual energy production of the wind farm,” he said. “This project, on average, produces somewhere in the high 40s in terms of percent and sometimes even 50 percent of the 250 megawatts on a normal basis.”
Bill Dalton, an engineer with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, said the 12.5 percent rating is used for planning purposes only. “That is the model that has been used for years,” he said. “It is part of the energy resource plan and is based on the historical performance of wind farms during peak summertime hours. Energy companies can plan for that percentage during those times; but, hypothetically, it could be 40 percent of the 250 megawatts for each of the 8,760 hours per year, on average.”
Forcing their hand?
During the BOCC meeting, Kevin Gildea, NextEra regional director, said that, according to their contract with Xcel Energy (the company that will sell the energy produced by the wind farm), NextEra has the right to walk away from the project if the “optimization” they were looking for was not approved.
“NextEra said on record that if we didn’t approve it, they would pull the project and sue the county,” Lathen said.
“There was no lawsuit discussed, and there were definitely no threats made,” Gil said.
Gil said that NextEra plans to start construction of the project April 1, with an anticipated finish date by the end of 2015.
Laura Wilson, Kris Renick and Gavin Wince serve as the executive committee of the newly formed El Paso County Property Rights Coalition. They held a public meeting in February to determine what, if anything, can be done to appeal the BOCC’s decision.