by Carol Dunn
WALSENBURG- Huerfano County Planning & Zoning held a public hearing on November 17 to take testimony and public comments on the preliminary application by RES America to develop the Silver Mountain Wind Farm near La Veta. About two hundred people attended the hearing, the majority of them apparently opposed to having new transmission lines strung through the County and a wind farm developed on land owned by Travis Crawford. At times they applauded testimony against the wind farm, and at one point joined voices on the song “America the Beautiful.”
Crawford told the planning board and the audience, “We have the responsibility of developing the natural resources we have . . . I gave a great deal of thought to what we’re doing here.” Crawford added, “This is a good project for Huerfano County, good for La Veta . . . good for your children.”
At issue are proposed 115KV transmission lines linked to Walsenburg and 50-100 wind turbines, with a maximum height of 450-feet, located on 7,400 acres of rangeland, just north of State Highway 160 and about four miles west of the intersection with Highway 12.
RES has been gathering data from one meteorological (MET) tower since 12/31/08, but its public displays feature a map of Colorado wind resources published by the US Department of Energy NREL (see http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/images/windmaps/co_50m_800.jpg). According to the NREL web site, the wind data are estimates by AWS Truewind, using a custom system and historical weather data, validated with available surface data by NREL and consultants. Wind speeds were a key factor in choosing the Silver Mountain site, with wind classified on the NREL map as “excellent to outstanding.” When County Commissioner Roger Cain pressed about the credibility of the map versus the MET data, RES Development Manager Catherine “Carey” Kling replied, “Wind data is proprietary among wind developers, and we need to think about how we want to share that with you.”
Kling also told the board that the new jobs brought to this area during the year-long construction would not be in erection of the turbines, which is a specialty trade, but in road construction, flaggers and possibly some electrical work. Eight to ten jobs would be created for the life of the 25-year project. Although a cadre of RES employees and contractors was on hand, several questions went unanswered because studies are still underway and even some basic portions of the plan are as yet undecided.
Staff comments pointed out that the project would be at odds with portions of the County’s comprehensive plan which pertain to preserving scenic vistas. The County’s zoning law specifies a scenic conservation overlay district extending 330-feet north from the centerline of Highway 160, with regulations about impeding and blocking views. The staff report said the majority of letters received about the application are in opposition, mostly because of scenic values, real estate values and wildlife concerns. Some were in favor for reasons of energy independence.
La Veta resident Claudia Capps was the first to speak during the public forum. “I’ve lived here from 1914 till now,” she said. “I’ve felt the wind blow all that time, and I don’t need any more wind. And I don’t think I need a wind farm in Huerfano County.”