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Xcel Energy

Kiowa County Renewable Energy Project Threatened by Setbacks


By Betsy Barnett

May 3, 2023

Setbacks. In the world of renewable energy setbacks are required boundaries around infrastructure where wind turbines or solar structures cannot be installed. Their purpose is to protect structures, access roads, towns, schools, healthcare facilities or public parks from being overrun by structures that could impede upon the operations of these entities. Setbacks are also measured from farms, unoccupied buildings, and property lines.

These setbacks have all of a sudden become the subject of disagreements in Kiowa County between the county’s Planning & Zoning decision makers and the renewable energy developers who are, as we speak, working with great speed to move their projects into a position where Xcel Energy will accept them onto the new transmission lines that are scheduled to begin to be built starting this month.

These updated setbacks do not apply to Xcel Energy and the Pathways project that is bringing the transmission lines across Kiowa County as their 1401 Plan with the county is already in place.

At the April Kiowa County Planning & Zoning meeting, the board determined new and more stringent setback regulations for the Wind, Solar, Transmission and Towers that will soon be springing up in Kiowa County.

The P & Z committee put greater new controls on the setbacks required to be followed by the handful of developers, both wind and solar, who are making their bids to come into the county and build their project. Most of these developers are planning on a combination of wind and solar development and are working in various parts of the county.

One company, Invenergy, has been working in the county for nearly eight years, according to Kiowa County Administrator Tina Adamson. “They have been planning and working toward developing the east end of the county. They’ve invested a great deal of money in land leases, and project development down to the very details concerning turbine and solar placement.” The company has been operating an office in Sheridan Lake for over a year working with the local citizens in order to make the best plan they can.

And, according to Adamson, Invenergy worked this entire time with just basic setback regulations the county borrow from Alamosa in 2013 during the infancy year of the project. “Invenergy did all that work without planning for the setbacks—except the basic ones in place. Nothing was in our 1041 plan.”

In fact, the setbacks borrowed from Alamosa was for transmission lines and solar only as that area does not have wind towers.

The basic setbacks included a 2,000 foot setback from any town, residence, or uninhabited structure. It also included a tip height of 100% the maximum height of the structure in question. That was the simple basis of the old setbacks set by the county in 2013 and used by Invenergy in the early days of developing their renewable energy project in Kiowa County.

The P & Z committee came in and added substantially onto those basic setbacks. Their recommendations for Wind include a 1.5 mile setback from towns, .75 mile setback from residences or noninhibited buildings, and a tip height of 1.5x the height of the structure. The P & Z recommendations fro solar is also 1.5 miles from a town, .5 miles from a residence, 1200’ from property lines, and 300’ from public roads. Transmission lines hold the same requirements.

When Invenergy learned of the recommendations set out by Planning & Zoning they informed the County Commissioners that setbacks such as those would require them to go back and replan 52% of their proposal, including changing land leases, and would also eliminate 18% of their current project plans. This when the RFP to Xcel has already been submitted in March and the short list of accepted projects is expected by June.

Invenergy has now sent a counter-proposal to the board and planning commission and sites their understanding that no standard setbacks had been codified besides the 2013 setbacks that they had been operating within. Their letter further lays out recommendations based on more than 190 energy projects they have completed in other areas. Their setback recommendations address Wind Turbines, Transmission Lines and Substations, and Solar Projects.

These recommendations were to be discussed in the May board meeting for Planning & Zoning on Tues., May 2.

This issue of setbacks threatens to disrupt the possible economic benefits for Kiowa County just as the project is getting off the ground. On Friday, Xcel’s team met with the BOCC and Kiowa County Road & Bridge leadership to inform them that the work for the Pathways project is about to commence.

The following work will be going on simultaneously and citizens in Cheyenne and Kiowa County will begin seeing workers in the area. This means economic opportunity as well.

The Goose Creek Substation project on the northern border of Cheyenne County will begin work on May 15. By June the May Valley Substation in southeastern Kiowa County will begin work. The Segment 3 transmission lines between the two substations will also begin in late May in Cheyenne County and move south toward Kiowa County. The work for these three major sections is scheduled for completion in early 2025.

Kiowa County is currently one of the poorest counties in the state, according to state data. These projects starting now and into the next five years will mean an economic boom for the county. For instance, just in Cheyenne County where they have approximately 350 wind towers their past 1041 tax revenue as an estimated $715,000.

Project developers are telling the county leadership they expect 1,000 wind towers and/or solar structures to be built in Kiowa County in the future once the Xcel infrastructure is in place. Whether that happens or not is up for debate, but this may all be affected by how the county leadership wants to develop their setback requirements.

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