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Peetz Plateau becoming an alternative-energy Mecca

PEETZ - The blades of 40 enormous new turbines are now turning steadily in the winds east of here.

Peetz (CO)
Journal-Advocate file photo The landscape both east and west of Peetz is now dominated by dozens of wind farm towers.

This just-completed operation of Invenergy Wind LLC, called the Spring Canyon Project, has the capacity to generate up to 60 megawatts of power for Xcel Energy. Brent Orr, development manager, said all that remains to be done at the site is a small amount of cleanup and reclamation - replanting some grassland disturbed during the construction phase.

The wind farm is larger than the 33-tower facility constructed west of Peetz by enXco a few years ago, but the 40 towers make up only Phase I of the total planned Invenergy project.
Journal-Advocate file photo The landscape both east and west of Peetz is now dominated by dozens of wind farm towers.

Xcel Energy and Invenergy Wind LLC recently reached an agreement on a purchase contract for 200 additional megawatts of wind energy. But there is a catch - a new 70-mile transmission line will be needed between Peetz and Xcel's electrical generation plant in Brush. Energy produced by the recently constructed wind farms uses the existing lines to capacity.

Xcel considers that to make a new transmission line cost-effective, it will need to... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
Peetz (CO)
 Journal-Advocate file photo The landscape both east and west of Peetz is now dominated by dozens of wind farm towers.

This just-completed operation of Invenergy Wind LLC, called the Spring Canyon Project, has the capacity to generate up to 60 megawatts of power for Xcel Energy. Brent Orr, development manager, said all that remains to be done at the site is a small amount of cleanup and reclamation - replanting some grassland disturbed during the construction phase.
 
The wind farm is larger than the 33-tower facility constructed west of Peetz by enXco a few years ago, but the 40 towers make up only Phase I of the total planned Invenergy project.
Journal-Advocate file photo The landscape both east and west of Peetz is now dominated by dozens of wind farm towers.
 
Xcel Energy and Invenergy Wind LLC recently reached an agreement on a purchase contract for 200 additional megawatts of wind energy. But there is a catch - a new 70-mile transmission line will be needed between Peetz and Xcel's electrical generation plant in Brush. Energy produced by the recently constructed wind farms uses the existing lines to capacity.
 
Xcel considers that to make a new transmission line cost-effective, it will need to carry 400 megawatts of power, double the generating power for Invenergy's new wind farm.
 
So a second wind farm company, Florida Light and Power, has entered the picture. FLP had signed temporary leases for land in the Peetz area a few years ago, but let them run out. Now it is back on the scene, again leasing land with a plan to build a wind farm large enough to generate the remaining 200 megawatts of power for the 400-megawatt transmission line.
 
Invenergy and FLP are both signing contracts now with landowners near Peetz, with just a few land leases still to be completed. The companies are targeting this fall for construction startup.
 
In the meantime, some residents of the Peetz area have become worried about the possible negative impact of so much wind farm development so close to such a small town. On March 14, about 70 people came to an information meeting to hear the opinions of several local officials.
 
One lightening rod for concern was HB 1275, sponsored in the Colorado senate by Sen. Greg Brophy from Yuma. The bill, which has now passed committee and is expected to soon pass into law, changes the way wind farms are taxed.
 
Wind farms are currently taxed like business buildings, which is a personal property tax and is heavily front-loaded. HB 1275 changes that to a tax based on energy sales - a production tax instead of a property tax. Brophy saw this bill as good for Colorado because it gives wind farms a more favorable taxing situation, making it more likely they will continue to build here.
 
Logan County Commissioner Greg Etl, who was at the March 14 meeting in Peetz, had said from the beginning that he believed HB 1275 had flaws that needed to be adjusted. He said the way the bill was originally written, it would have taken more than 50 years - twice the estimated life of a wind farm - before the same amount of tax would have been collected as under current law.
 
"We're trying to make it better," Etl said, "trying to find a valuation method that won't hurt the county or the state." He said the Colorado Division of Property Values is working to develop a formula so that the taxes would equal out in approximately 20 years.
 
Attorney Nick Schaefer from Sterling came to the March 14 meeting with copies of initial lease agreements from both Invenergy and Florida Light and Power. Without identifying which was which, he noted one included specified insurance to cover possible damages such as to crops or loss of livestock, while the other did not.
 
Some landowners were concerned about eventually taking down the turbines when they were no longer needed. Schaefer said they could ask for insurance or a bond to cover this and see if the energy company would agree to it. He said a provision for a bond for taking down the towers would be better than a personal guarantee. He encouraged landowners to talk about these concern up front with the energy companies.
 
Kirstie Bay, a wildlife conservation biologist from the Department of Wildlife, told the gathered crowd that once contracts are finalized, DOW does a wildlife assessment. Species of concern include raptors and sharp-tailed grouse. Prairie dogs are not a species of concern themselves, but the eagles that may prey on them are. Bay said current turbines have been designed to reduce raptor death. She also said DOW is now working on a plan of conservation easements for the proposed transmission line to Brush.
 
One person in the crowd asked how changes in the tax structure and the rising price of land around the wind farms would affect the taxes he paid on his land. Logan County Assessor Peggy Michaels said there should be no effect if the land is kept in production agriculture. Agricultural land is valued on the income from the land, Michaels said - not on its selling price or that of neighbors' property.
 
Several weeks ago, Brett Challenger, executive director of the Logan County Development Corporation, said that if the entire 133 towers are developed, the resulting total of 206 wind turbines would make Peetz one of the largest wind farm areas in the country.
 
"I'd think it would at least be in the top 10, or maybe even the top five," he said.
 
LuAnne Schumacher, who lives near Peetz and works with her husband Phil, manager of the Peetz Farmers' Co-Op, said that because of the increase in the tax base, the Peetz School District is paying off its bonded indebtedness more quickly than expected. She sees the wind farms as a definite plus because they do reduce the tax burden on residents.
 
Peetz Postmaster Sandra Vallier said the wind farms have brought new people - chiefly the construction crews - into the area.
 
"And when they're finished, there are some jobs for local people, if they are qualified," she added. "It affects every landowner who has a tower sitting on their land, too. They get paid for them, but if they farm the land, they have to farm around the towers," Vallier said.
 
"When the workers were all here, it was good for the town's economy," she added.
 
At the Hot Spot, which is the local eatery, tavern and general gathering place, owner Pam Meick said the wind farm construction crews are definitely helping business.
 
"They've been a very pleasant group to work with. We've kind of gotten to know them as friends," she said. "They always come for our Wednesday night buffet." The crews do this partly in support of the town, Meick said, but also because they appreciate the home-cooked meal.
 
"It's been really good for the whole community," she noted.
 
Meick said some people really don't like the windmills because they think the towers ruin the view, but she thinks they are interesting.
 
"They're a nice pristine white," she said. "Even the ones that were put up several years ago are still nice and white."
 
Before the wind farms were built, people worried that they would be too noisy, but Meick said they make only a soft whirring sound that can be heard in the evening after everything else is quiet. Some residents were also concerned about light from the beacons at night, but she said she doesn't see that as a problem, either.
 
"The wind farms have been really good for the whole community," she said.
 
Ivan and Ardis Gillham have 16 of the 40 current wind towers on their land west of Peetz. Invenergy chose to lease their land because of an existing high-capacity transmission line running through it, Ardis said. And that is an irony.
 
"When the lines went in, we asked to have them moved away from the three farmsteads, but it was the government and they wouldn't do it," she said.
 
Now, because the transmission lines were available right on their property, Invenergy not only leased enough land for the towers, but also purchased 43 acres from the Gillhams to build a substation and an office and maintenance building.
 
The Gillhams are benefiting from their long-term lease with Invenergy, as are the other landowners with wind towers, but they believe the increased tax base will benefit the whole community.

Source: http://www.journal-advocate...

MAR 30 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/1959-peetz-plateau-becoming-an-alternative-energy-mecca
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