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Winding up to blows 

Test-tower tussle on the eastern plains hints at windpower battles to come

click to enlarge A neighbors wind turbine perspective - Karen Oliver prepped this graphic for commissioners - (not to scale).
  • A neighbors wind turbine perspective Karen Oliver prepped this graphic for commissioners (not to scale).

On wind-whipped grasslands of eastern El Paso County, windmills have made short work of a tedious chore by pumping water for herds of cattle.

Now a windpower company is looking to put a modern spin on that traditional practice, and Arlene Walker, for one, sees nothing wrong with that.

"They're pumping wind for electricity," the 67-year-old says. "Let me tell you, I would love to have one in my backyard."

Walker's backyard in Rush isn't a prime spot for a modern wind turbine. But California-based Clipper Windpower is eyeing the 420 acres she owns southeast of Calhan as one of three El Paso County locales that could host 197-foot data collection towers. By measuring local wind speeds at different heights on the towers, the company aims to determine if money can be made dotting the area with 2.5-megawatt turbines, the blades of which would rise 400-plus feet in the air.

The company already has a 164-foot tower measuring wind speeds on land south of Ramah.

Walker envisions the country eventually embracing wind and solar energy.

"It's coming, if people want to fight it or not," she says.

For the moment, at least, some Calhan neighbors do want to fight it. And county commissioners seem likely to deny Clipper the permit for Walker's property. Jim Bensberg and Amy Lathen, reacting to comments from nearby property owners, opposed granting a permit for the tower at their Feb. 14 meeting, voting 2-1 against commission chair Dennis Hisey.

Since three votes "yea" or "nay" are needed for any decision to take effect, the motion to deny the permit was suspended until the Feb. 21 meeting, when other commissioners would be present.

Regardless of the outcome, that dust-up hints at disputes to come if and when Clipper or another company seeks to raise wind turbines in the county.

Karen Oliver, one of two property owners who spoke against the permit, says the test tower, though slight compared to an energy-producing turbine, would be a menace.

At the Feb. 14 meeting, Oliver, who owns 80 acres near Walker's land, showed commissioners pictures of grassland views from neighboring properties that would be altered with the tower. She also mentioned concerns about birds hitting the poles and possible noise.

"There's a lot of land out there that doesn't affect people as much as this one does," she said.

The test towers only measure inches in diameter, and are held upright with wires that could be hung with small flags to help birds spot them. Casey Willis, a coordinator with Clipper, assures they are noiseless. He says the company needs at least a year's data, likely more, before deciding whether to build turbines; he won't say how many the company might seek to build.

"We can't go forward with a project without a solid understanding of what the wind looks like," he told commissioners.

Bob Gates, a Clipper vice president, says the company is drawn to the project by Colorado's emphasis on renewable energy and new technology that makes it possible to run turbines in places that once seemed to have inadequate winds.

Gates says it's not uncommon to encounter opposition to proposed wind projects. But since wind turbines bring jobs and tax dollars as they produce energy, many communities are clamoring for them.

"If people don't want it," he says, "we'll go someplace else."

lane@csindy.com

  • California company wants to find out if turbines could work in El Paso County.

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