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East Huerfano County wind project a $400 million winner

by Bill Knowles

WALSENBURG- With the approval of the Cordova Wind farm project on Sept. 29, the Huerfano County Board of County Commissioners okayed a project that will set the standard for many such projects still on the drawing board.

    According to the final SB 1041 application for the project, E.ON Climate and Renewables will invest around $400 million in the wind farm that will sit atop the Cordova Mesa and straddle Huerfano and Las Animas Counties.  The farm will have 125 turbines generating about 200 megawatts of electricity; 39 of the turbines will be located in Huerfano with the remaining 161 turbines to be located in Las Animas.  With favorable winds, each turbine will be able to generate 1.6 MW of electricity.

    Around 400 temporary construction jobs will be generated by the project.  This figure includes the personnel needed by any subcontractors for the building phase.  When the turbines have been erected, there will be a demand for 20 to 25 fulltime jobs.

    The application also calls for 10 alternate Federal Aviation Administration approved wind turbines.  In addition, it calls for a 10,000 square foot operation and maintenance building along with the primary construction yard to be built in Huerfano County.  Access to the project will be located on Highway 10 where acceleration and deceleration lanes will need to be cut.  E.ON will also be building and maintaining a system of access roads within the proposed project site.

    If the turbines are shipped down I-25, then the Colorado Department of Transportation may become involved, widening the exit ramps at the I-25 and Highway 10 junction.  The turbine blades alone will be about 100 feet in length, and the exit ramps at the junction will not allow for turns by trucks hauling such long loads as they exit the interstate and turn east to the project.

    E.ON, the Board of County Commissioners and the Planning and Zoning Commission all agreed that the project needs to be started by the end of the year in order for E.ON to be able to take advantage of federal energy impact funding under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. That funding will stop at the end of the year.

    Two factors could slow down the process:  E.ON needs one more easement for a completed transmission line route and needs a power purchase agreement along with the ability to move the power north.

    First, the right of way easements for a 21 mile transmission line from Cordova to the proposed Calumet substation are being held up at the 20 to 21 mile section as the proposed transmission route runs across the Mauro Ranch just south of the proposed substation.  Florida Power and Light has an agreement with the landowners and is holding up that part of the plan.

    According to Huerfano Planning and Code Enforcement Officer Steve Channel, Florida Power and Light has no other interests in Huerfano County other then their agreement with the owners of the ranch.  “Florida Power and Light has a wind project in the Comanche Grasslands in Eastern Las Animas County and that’s it.  If they start generating power, they will have to move it to a substation  E.ON will be building at the Cordova site so I can’t see any advantage for them to be holding up the works here in Huerfano County,” Channel said.  At the Sept. 29 County Commission meeting the Commissioners indicated that they would do what they could to help E.ON to get the last mile of easement for the E.ON transmission line.

    Second, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is still considering the Tri-State and Xcel Energy transmission line project.  That project, when completed, will move electricity from  proposed solar generation farms in the San Luis Valley over La Veta Pass and across Huerfano County where it will cross over Highways 160 and 69 to the proposed Calumet substation just north of Walsenburg.  Power from wind farms in the county will also link in to the Calumet substation and will move north to the Comanche 3 power generation plant in Pueblo. From there the electricity will be sold to the Denver market where demand will outstrip supply in another few years.

    Right now one factor holding up the Tri-State and Xcel proposal involves the Trinchera Ranch.  Billionaire hedge-fund manager Louis Moore Bacon purchased the property from Malcolm Forbes in 2007 for $175 million. The ranch is the largest remaining undeveloped land parcel within the historic Sangre de Cristo land grant of 1843.  The ranch has filed with the PUC to prevent the Tri-State and Xcel transmission line from crossing the ranch and has researched other routes for the line. 

    It is the lack of a transmission line to move the power north that is holding up a power purchase agreement between Tri-State, Xcel and E.ON.  “What we would like to see is for the PUC to divide the transmission line project into two parts and go ahead and okay the Calumet to Comanche lines. This would facilitate the movement of power from the wind farms that are going to be located here in Huerfano as well as in Las Animas counties,” Channel said.

    With E.ON Climate and Renewables moving forward on their projects east of I-25, other companies are also interested in beginning their projects.  Shell Wind has been in contact with Planning and Zoning in the county over the past two months, and the HB 1041 application that the commission approved for E.ON is being considered by the county and energy producers as the standard against which all others will be compared.

    Channel pointed out that the E.ON application was the way all future projects needed to be approached.  “When E.ON completed their preliminary HB 1041 application, there were only four items they needed for the final HB 1041 application. These guys really worked hard to get this application right and they did it as quickly as county regulations allowed them.  All future wind projects in Huerfano County need to pay attention to this one.”

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