by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG- Black Hills Energy, facing a crowd of both supporters and opponents, made its first public hearing on a proposed wind farm that will be built on 22,000 acres of the Busch Ranch in eastern Huerfano County.
The meeting was a public hearing as required according to land use regulations in House Bill 1041 when a utility is to be built. The county regulations require a hearing on the preliminary HB 1041 applicationconditional for land surface use.
In a packed conference room at the Huerfano County Community Center, the public hearing took about two hours for the presentation of the project by a Black Hills spokesman. The public hearing was followed by a meeting between the Planning and Zoning committee and Black Hills to discuss conditions to be added to the application. The recommendations can either be accepted or rejected by the Huerfano County Board of Commissioners when they consider the application.
To be built in three phases, the project calls for the goal of the first phase to be the construction and operation of 16 Vestas-built wind turbines by the end of the fourth business quarter of 2012. If the CUP application is approved then construction will start in early spring of 2012 and finish sometime in the fall of the same year.
According to Black Hills Energy, the project will pump about $100,000 in property taxes into Huerfano County per year with a one time $700,000 in sales use permit taxes. And the project could possibly put about $1.5 million into the local economy through subcontracts and potential vendor sales.
When Phase One is in operation, Black Hills Energy will have two fulltime employees who will be responsible for maintenance on the turbines. The number of fulltime employees will increase to about ten.
Opponents and others with concerns had a chance to lodge their comments and ask their questions in the second half of the hearing. Janet Trohas, a leading opponent of the project, said there are several things that can be done to alleviate concerns about the proposed project. “There has not been any tangible evidence shown about how the company will decommission the project.” The concern about decommissioning the project came up several times with one suggestion being that the company put up $6.2 million as security for decommissioning.
Black Hills argued that since the county hadn’t required that kind of security from any other wind utility before now, Huerfano County couldn’t do it to Black Hills.
The issue of decommissioning the project when it reached lifetime came up again during the Planning Committee meeting following the public hearing. The Planning Committee wanted to see a plan for that included in the CUP application.
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