In the relatively near future, it’s likely that people living, working and traveling through Kiowa County are going to see several new structures on the horizon. Referred to as METs, the three 60 foot high Meteorological Evaluation Towers will be constructed for the purpose of measuring and collecting data regarding the characteristics of the wind. Speed, duration, frequency, turbulence—all those features of wind will be measured that people who live in these parts have, at some level, been aware of for most of their lives.
The presence of the METs on the horizon are more than just a change in the view. They are also an indication of progress being made on the Eads Prairie Wind Farm, a project that is being explored by NorthRenew Energy Company.
“We’re finishing up the paperwork now and hope to get the METs up in late November or early December,” states Mark Green, NorthRenew’s Director of Development. “The towers will collect data for a minimum of a year, measuring things like how much wind is there, how often is there wind, data like that. We then use the data we’ve collected to build a model that’s specific to the site where the data was collected.”
You don’t have to be a news junkie to realize that wind energy is establishing a notable presence in Colorado, most notably on the Eastern Plains. Whether it’s the abundance of wind turbines south of Springfield in Baca County or the Rush Creek Wind Farm that’s planned for counties to the north, renewable energy companies have discovered that, in addition to wide open spaces and big skies, there is also an abundance of wind on these High Plains.
However, not all renewable energy companies are the same. As Green describes it, NorthRenew is hoping to be a more modern provider that generates power in a more environmentally protective and responsible way.
Admirable as that sounds, Green’s extensive experience has also taught him that the growing presence of a new industry—especially one as prominent as wind energy—is going to be viewed differently by different people, largely depending upon their orientation. That is most especially true with people who are averse to impact and prefer to leave things “as is”. “I always say the same thing to people up front,” he explains. “You’re always making a choice. Always. ‘As is’ has impact. Someone is generating power somewhere.” In other words, that “power being generated somewhere” is undoubtedly impacting people, as well, it may just be in ways that are not so clearly evident.
While NorthRenew Energy is not new to the industry, the company is somewhat new to Colorado and is currently looking at several projects in the state. However, as Green puts it, “Eads is leading the pack” and the Eads Prairie Wind Farm is a project the company plans to take to completion.
“We feel very positive about the area,” Green states, “but it’s a process. With each step you take, it’s more likely that there will be a positive outcome.” He hesitates, looking for the best—and safest—way to put it. “And we’re cautiously optimistic. Eads looks good in all the areas, but it’s a process that takes two to three years and, with each step, there are places where you can also run into a problem.”
It’s a process.
The “process” seems to be both incredibly detailed and sensibly constructed with several core areas that need to be addressed. The first consideration involves making certain the project is sound both economically and environmentally. That is part of the purpose of the METs collecting data for a year: to determine the impact on the environment. After that, operational considerations seem to kick in, such as how will the power be sold and to whom? How will the power be moved (or transmitted)? At that point, there is consideration of the actual construction of the project.
Throughout his description of how the project will essentially progress, Green emphasizes the need to keep communication lines open. If the project is ultimately successful, it will be a part of the community for a significant amount of time, and it’s important that a lasting relationship is built.
For that reason, among others, NorthRenew makes it a practice to refer to “local experts” whenever possible, recognizing that those who are the most familiar with the area are also those whose opinions and expertise are to be highly valued.
He cites an example in discussing environmental impact, stating that they will most certainly be engaging in community outreach. As an illustration, he brings up the importance of the project’s impact on bats and birds and emphasizes the critical need to gain accurate data to ensure the best possible environmental decisions can be made.
Communication also becomes of paramount importance once construction actually begins, and NorthRenew has plans to reach out to the business community, civic leaders, elected officials and others all in an attempt to, once again, build strong and lasting relationships.
At this point, there’s a very natural tendency to start asking for specifics, such as when is it anticipated that they’ll begin construction? Or how many workers does a project like this employ?
Green is reluctant to be specific, stating that there are a myriad of variables that need to be mentioned so that any information that’s provided is accurate and understood. Nonetheless, he provides a thumbnail sketch, based on other projects he’s been involved with in the past.
Construction of the turbines takes a total of roughly 12-14 months, and he’s quick to add that it’s not 12 to 14 months in one location but spread out over the area where the turbines will be built. In the middle of that time, there will be approximately 5-6 months where about 300 workers will be in the area (that is, 300 “boots on the ground”, as he put it). As the project nears completion, there will then be a crew that is hired to maintain the turbines.
There is no doubt that construction of a wind farm is an enormous project involving multiple and repeated studies as the “process” moves along, and there will, no doubt, be additional articles written as things develop. But there is a certain element of the project that seems oddly suited to the industry itself. We are, after all, discussing the wind, and anyone who has lived on the High Plains knows that the wind will go where it will as it will with little regard to anyone or anything else.