Technology  April 23, 2010

Wind farm turbines could top 400

GROVER – The biggest wind farm in Colorado and one of the largest wind turbine arrays in the nation is about to become even bigger if it gets the green light from Weld County.

BP Alternative Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of BP – formerly British Petroleum – has submitted an application to expand its Cedar Creek wind farm east of Grover in northeastern Weld County. Cedar Creek II, proposed for about 27,000 acres in the vicinity of Pawnee National Grasslands, would add an estimated 120 to 200 wind turbines to the 274 already producing power in nearby Cedar Creek I. Those became operational in January 2008 on 30,000 acres just west of the proposed Cedar Creek II.

Cedar Creek I cost $400 million to build and is capable of generating up to 300 megawatts of electricity, or enough for about 95,000 households. As outlined in Cedar Creek II’s county application, that capacity would be doubled with another 300 installed megawatts and a 230-kilovolt transmission line.

Amanda Abbott, BP Alternative Energy spokeswoman, said Cedar Creek II will cost about $2 million per installed megawatt to build, using an accepted industry standard.

BP Alternative Energy has an exclusive 20-year agreement for Xcel Energy to buy all of the wind power produced at Cedar Creek I. Tom Henley, an Xcel spokesman, said he could not say whether Xcel would buy the electricity produced by Cedar Creek II “until such a deal is signed and sealed.”

However, Xcel’s Colorado requirement to obtain 20 percent of its power through alternative energy sources by 2020 was increased to 30 percent during the current legislative session. Henley said while the company is pursuing that goal, buying more energy produced through alterative sources likely won’t lower customer energy bills.

“The majority of the wind energy we get is at a fairly competitive rate,” he said. “But it won’t result in lower electric bills.”

Private and state land

Like Cedar Creek I, Cedar Creek II would be built on private land parcels and state-owned public parcels leased through the State Land Board. And like Cedar Creek I, wind turbines in the expansion would be within the federal Pawnee National Grasslands, although no turbines will be erected on federal land. The area is a patchwork of private, state and federal land parcels.

 

Lori Bell, Pawnee National Grasslands district ranger, said the 193,000-acre grasslands area is an internationally known bird watching area. “We’re renowned for our birding, and people from all over the world come here.”

Bell said since the project won’t involve any federal land, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the grasslands, was not asked to formally review or comment on it. “As with phase 1, we were just an adjacent landowner,” she said. “We did not have any say in what they could or could not do.”

Bell said despite the change in the landscape caused by adding more turbines, she’s personally aware of only one complaint from someone worried that the 100-foot-tall spinning blades would chop up migrating birds.

“There’s a visual effect,” she said. “It’s kind of in the eye of the beholder. Some think it’s unique and others think it’s marring the landscape.”

William Burnidge, a spokesman for the Colorado chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said BP worked with his group on Cedar Creek I to help mitigate the impact on nesting and migratory birds in the grasslands, donating $75,000 to help buy conservation easements surrounding the project for nesting and habitat.

Burnidge said he has not heard from BP this time around and noted that the $75,000 donation for Cedar Creek I was made after he approached the company to talk about the project’s potential impact on wildlife in the area.

Windy location

Abbott said BP chose the vicinity around Pawnee National Grasslands because of strong winds blowing through the nearly treeless area. “Our projects are sited where there are the best wind resources,” she said.

Part of Cedar Creek II is proposed to be built on the Chalk Bluffs, which has been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. The area provides habitat for many raptor species, including golden eagle, prairie falcon, ferruginous hawk and Swainson’s hawk, and is one of the world’s primary breeding grounds for the mountain plover.

Chris Gathman, Weld County planner, said the county planning commission will hear the BP Cedar Creek II application on May 18 at 1:30 p.m. Based on that recommendation, Gathman said the Weld County Board of Commissioners will have final say on the proposal at a meeting set for May 19 at 10 a.m.

Abbott said BP hopes to begin work on Cedar Creek II this summer. The project is expected to take about one year to complete, employing up to 250 people to erect the turbines and build a power transmission line.

Between 12 and 14 workers are expected to have permanent jobs at the site, operating and maintaining the equipment. Abbott said the project would not be using Vestas equipment made nearby. She said while BP does deploy some Vestas wind turbines in its projects, the Cedar Creek II project will use a combination of Nordex and GE equipment.

GROVER – The biggest wind farm in Colorado and one of the largest wind turbine arrays in the nation is about to become even bigger if it gets the green light from Weld County.

BP Alternative Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of BP – formerly British Petroleum – has submitted an application to expand its Cedar Creek wind farm east of Grover in northeastern Weld County. Cedar Creek II, proposed for about 27,000 acres in the vicinity of Pawnee National Grasslands, would add an estimated 120 to 200 wind turbines to the 274 already producing power in nearby Cedar Creek I.…

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