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Colorado town kicks up resistance to proposed wind farms

Huerfano County, which straddles the Eastern Plains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is facing a wind rush. Three wind-farm projects - particularly one near scenic La Veta Pass - have galvanized grassroots opposition and posed a challenge for county planning officials. "When voters and legislators adopted renewable-energy goals, I don't know if they were thinking of turning rural Colorado into an industrial zone," said Dawn Blanken, a La Veta councilwoman.

LA VETA - Huerfano County, which straddles the Eastern Plains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is facing a wind rush.

Three wind-farm projects - particularly one near scenic La Veta Pass - have galvanized grassroots opposition and posed a challenge for county planning officials.

"When voters and legislators adopted renewable-energy goals, I don't know if they were thinking of turning rural Colorado into an industrial zone," said Dawn Blanken, a La Veta councilwoman.

Still, not every wind farm that is proposed will be built. The key is getting an agreement with a utility to buy the energy, said Craig Cox, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, a trade group.

"For now, power-purchase agreements will determine what gets built," Cox said. "If we can get the transmission and market rules right, we can go to town."

But not the arts-and-crafts town of La Veta, which is 2 miles from the proposed 7,000-acre Silver Mountain Wind Farm.

The town council voted to oppose the Silver Mountain project - a 150- megawatt facility - and called for a moratorium on wind projects until the county revises its master plan and land- use regulations.

"La Veta has some charm and some dumpiness. It is a great... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

LA VETA - Huerfano County, which straddles the Eastern Plains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is facing a wind rush.

Three wind-farm projects - particularly one near scenic La Veta Pass - have galvanized grassroots opposition and posed a challenge for county planning officials.

"When voters and legislators adopted renewable-energy goals, I don't know if they were thinking of turning rural Colorado into an industrial zone," said Dawn Blanken, a La Veta councilwoman.

Still, not every wind farm that is proposed will be built. The key is getting an agreement with a utility to buy the energy, said Craig Cox, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, a trade group.

"For now, power-purchase agreements will determine what gets built," Cox said. "If we can get the transmission and market rules right, we can go to town."

But not the arts-and-crafts town of La Veta, which is 2 miles from the proposed 7,000-acre Silver Mountain Wind Farm.

The town council voted to oppose the Silver Mountain project - a 150- megawatt facility - and called for a moratorium on wind projects until the county revises its master plan and land- use regulations.

"La Veta has some charm and some dumpiness. It is a great community of artists and writers and craftsmen," said Ricky Tims, who six years ago relocated his internationally known quilting business to the town of 880.

"But what it really has is this remarkable natural resource," Tims said. "This pristine land. It is what makes this a tourist destination and a real-estate draw - and those are two big parts of our economy."

County to update land rules

The county is moving to update its land-use rules, said Steven Channel, the county's planner.

"We are in the early stages of updating our comprehensive plan, and we have certainly talked about specifically addressing wind development," he said.

The county commission has already designated the eastern part of the county along Interstate 25 as the "preferred" area for wind development.

"It isn't a mandate, just a preference," said Channel.

Silver Mountain, however, is in the western part of the county, right next to a county-designated scenic corridor.

"We selected the site because of the wind," said Carey Kling, lead developer for Silver Mountain, a Renewable Energy Systems Inc. project.

The wind in the eastern portion of the county is graded as "fair" by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The Silver Mountain site is rated "outstanding."

The cost of the project will have to wait for more detailed decisions on construction but will be "a couple of hundred million dollars," Kling said.

RES Americas of Broomfield is doing the wind studies and environmental studies to determine the viability of the project, she said.

Among the research is a year-long study, reviewed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, on birds in the area and the impacts of a wind farm.

"Right now, we are doing our due diligence to determine the viability of the project," Kling said.

Xcel to seek bids in 2011

The aim is to have the project assessment complete when Xcel Energy, the state's biggest utility, asks for the next round of wind-project bids around 2011, Kling said.

In September, plans for a 198-megawatt wind project just a few miles from Silver Mountain were announced by Houston-based Blue Diamond Ventures Inc.

On its website, Blue Diamond lists its businesses as biofuels, organic farming, aqua-culture and goat meat. The company did not return calls for comment.

"The risk we see, if you have one wind farm, others will come and the character of the area will be completely changed," said La Veta's Blanken.

The Pole Canyon Wind Farm, which is in the preferred wind zone in the eastern part of the county, already has received all its permits.

However, the 200-megawatt facility on about 25,000 acres north of the county seat of Walsenburg failed to make the final round of projects being considered by Xcel.

"We still intend to go forward, but at a slower pace since we weren't selected by Xcel," said Beth O'Brien, a spokeswoman for the developer, San Francisco-based Pattern Energy Group LP.

The Huerfano County commissioners are slated to rule on Silver Mountain's preliminary permit Dec. 9.

"We are getting better at handling these wind-farm permits, but we still have a long way to go," Channel said.


Source: http://www.denverpost.com/b...

NOV 29 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/23351-colorado-town-kicks-up-resistance-to-proposed-wind-farms
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