Turbine to send energy to four states

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

There wasn’t a breeze in the air in Denver on Monday as Gov. Bill Ritter announced the construction of a 34-turbine wind farm outside Burlington, where the wind comes sweeping down the Eastern Plains energetically enough to power 12,000 to 14,000 homes.

Gov. Bill Ritter looks on as Ken Anderson, Tri-State Generation and Transmission executive vice president and general manager, left, and David Marks, senior vice president for wind energy at Duke Energy Generation, sign an agreement to construct a new wind farm outside of Burlington on Monday.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

More than 150 construction workers will be needed to build the facility. And when construction is complete in 2011, the 51-megawatt wind farm near the Kansas border will cover more than 6,000 acres and require six to eight full-time employees to oversee operations.

“This is another important step forward for Colorado’s New Energy Economy and will be a boon for the Eastern Plains, which are blessed with rich and abundant wind resources,” Ritter said from the West Steps of the Capitol.

The project will be built and owned by North Carolina-based Duke Energy, but Tri-State Generation and Transmission — a utility owned by 44 rural electric cooperatives in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming — will buy power from the wind farm and resell it to consumers in their rural service areas.

Officials of Tri-State, which relies heavily on coal for power production, said Monday the wind power it plans to purchase will help the utility meet standards set forth by the state Legislature in 2007 requiring rural electric cooperatives to obtain 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

“This wind power project is an important part of our near-term strategy to diversify our portfolio with renewable resources that complement our fleet of base-load generation,” said Ken Anderson, Tri-State’s executive vice president and general manager. “It also keeps us ahead of targets to meet renewable energy standards on behalf of our member co-ops.”

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, left, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, listen to Gov. Bill Ritter speak at the press conference at the state Capitol on Monday.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

But coal is still in Tri-State’s future. To the dismay of some environmentalists, the utility recently announced a deal to purchase 600-megawatts of energy from a new Kansas coal-powered plant. And — although Ritter praised Tri-State at the new wind farm announcement — his Public Utilities Commission has been investigating whether the utility is responsible for environmentally insensitive emissions and working to determine if the state should take a greater role in its regulation.

When Tri-State exec Anderson was asked whether he believes his utility is improving its environmental record in generating power for its customers, he said it is — but perhaps not as quickly as some would like.

“Everyone wants to see something done overnight when it comes to these things,” Anderson said “But, that’s not the way these things work.”

A box holding Tri-State pamphlets sits on the ground during the Monday press conference.
Photo by Jason Kosena
The Colorado Statesman

Although Ritter and the Democrats have dominated the push to develop Colorado’s “new energy economy,” many Republicans have supported the move toward cleaner burning fuels and energy production. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, in whose district the new wind farm will be built, said he sees Monday’s announcement as a positive step forward for the people and the economy of the Eastern Plains.

“We’ve been harvesting crops on the Eastern Plains for generations, and now we are turning to a new harvest to create jobs and economic opportunity for the people on the Eastern Plains. It’s really a great thing... and an important step forward as we expand the new energy economy in Colorado and create jobs,” said Gardner, who is gearing up for a 2010 run for the 4th Congressional District seat now held by Democrat Betsy Markey.

For her part, Markey worked to help incorporate aspects into the energy bill that recently passed the House, adding renewable energy transmission lines from the Eastern Plains to other states. When Gardner was asked if he supported Markey’s efforts, he said he has always supported adding transmission line infrastructure to the state, enabling Eastern Plains energy production to power other parts of Colorado.

“There is a lot of opportunity to create power on the Eastern Plains but not a lot of people to use it,” Gardner said. “If we can start transmitting the power to people on the Front Range and throughout Colorado, we will be moving in the right direction.”

Jason@coloradostatesman.com