Governor, ranchers welcome the wind

WELD COUNTY, OKLAHOMA - Gov. Bill Ritter and officials with the Cedar Creek Wind Farm talked about alternative energy, economic development for rural areas and energy independence when the northern Weld County farm went into operation.

But for ranchers Gene and Sharon Hahn, the near completion of the facility meant some easing of stress of trying to run cattle on ground that has been parched by drought the past few years.

"We have 18 of them (turbines) on our ranch. It might help things just a little," Gene Hahn said with a wry smile on his face. Ranchers and farmers like the Hahns are a major reason the facility was built east of Grover, for it's their land where the almost 275 wind turbines sit on 32,000 acres on the bluffs above Grover, stretching to the north toward Hereford. Ranchers lease and where the turbines are constructed.

David Giordano of Babcock & Brown, which built the facility in partnership with BP Alternative Energy, said the facility is the largest wind energy built as a single project in the world.

"The landowners were critical partners in this project," Giordano told a crowd of more than 100 who attended the official start-up. The wind whipped the double-tents where the ceremony was conducted, a fact that didn't escape Ritter, who based much of his campaign last year on making Colorado the renewable energy capital of the United States. "It's gratifying to feel the wind whip through this tent," Ritter said.

"For all the ranchers and farmers who have cussed the wind, we're here today to bless it." Ritter said the project is a boom for Colorado. "It's good for our economy. It's good for our environment, and it's good for our energy independence," he said.

The facility is expected to be fully operational by year's end, with the first phase up and running by the end of October. The turbines will generate 300 megawatts of carbon-free electricity, which is enough to power 90,000 average-sized homes annually. With a capital investment of more than $480 million, the project will be 67 percent owned by Babcock & Brown Operating Partners and 33 percent owned by BP Alternative Energy North America.

About 400 workers have been at the site of the project for the past two years. The electricity will be bought by Xcel Energy of Denver.

Riley Hill, an Xcel representative, said that company plans to provide 1,000 megawatts of wind energy by the end of this year and 6,000 megawatts by 2020. Sharon Hahn said she doesn't mind the change in the landscape.

"I'd rather have turbines than a housing development. To us it hasn't changed the view; it's like looking through a window. And with the drought we've been dealing with, it's been a blessing," she said. About the farm Cedar Creek Wind Farm, when complete, will be one of the largest single wind-powered facilities in the United States.

It will have 274 wind turbines - 221 Mitsubishi models with a hub height of 226 feet and a rotor diameter of 202 feet, and 53 General Electric models with a hub height of about 262 feet and a rotor diameter of 253 feet.

Above-ground transmission lines will be constructed on private easements in a corridor extending from the wind farm substation near Grover in northeast Weld County south to a Exel Energy switching station near Keenesburg, in southeast Weld.

During construction of the $480 million facility 415 workers were used. The project will employ a full time staff of more than 20 who will monitor and maintain the site once it becomes fully operational.


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