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Invenergy Makes 1041 Application for Two Wind Farms in Kiowa County

By Betsy Barnett

February 16, 2024

Kiowa County continued to move ever closer to successfully entering into the world of renewable energy on Tuesday, February 13, 2024, when they considered in a public hearing two 1041 Land Use Applications/Permits submitted by Towner Wind Energy III LLC, a subsidiary of Invenergy. The Public Hearing was held in the Kiowa County Commissioners meeting room where approximately 130 people were present to hear the details of two different wind tower projects to be located in southeastern Kiowa County from the Kansas border and west toward the town of Sheridan Lake and south toward the Kiowa-Prowers County border.

Those in attendance heard the details of the projects presented by the county’s 1041 attorney, Darla Scranton Specht. Once the specifics of the project agreement were expressed, attendees had the opportunity to voice their approval or disapproval for each or both projects. There was overwhelming agreement to accept the two projects, although much discussion centered around Kiowa County’s 1% impact fee that Invenergy has been trying to negotiate down. In addition, two complaints were filed about the projects’ applications with one coming from the Northern Cheyenne Tribes and the other coming from an oil and gas leasing company.

First on the docket was the consideration of the Towner East Wind application submitted by Towner Wind Energy III LLC, a subsidiary of Invenergy.

According to the company, Towner East is a proposed 500 MW wind power generation facility in Kiowa County, Colorado. With approximately 154 wind turbines spread across approximately 60,000 acres of private land, Towner East will generate enough electricity to power more than 198,000 American homes.

Towner East will also include a 20- to 25-mile generator lead (gen-tie) transmission line with interconnection to the Public Service Company of Colorado’s (PSCo) May Valley Substation that is currently under construction by Xcel Energy.

Work is expected to begin in 2024 once the permit is approved. Construction is expected to be completed in 2025. During the construction phase an estimated 250 workers will be in the area.

The Towner East wind towers are approximately 610 meters to 700 meters high, which is equivalent to a 56-story high rise building. The project also includes 1-2 substations utilizing 4 acres, 20-25 miles of transmission lines with 325 MW permitted and sent to the May Valley substation. Produced energy is expected to be sold to Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generations and Transmission Association as both companies will have transmission lines available in the area.

Other project assets for Towner East will include a storage facility taking up 5.1 acres and up to 50 acres lay down area. Concrete batch plants will be needed, as well, and will be constructed where and when needed.

The project will use existing roads and Invenergy will build roads to access the tower locations. Those roads into the project areas will be constructed and maintained by Invenergy. Road Use agreements along with water, vegetation, wildlife, septic, landfill, and emergency management agreements are included in the 1041 application.

The Towner East, as well as the Towner West, project is scheduled to be in production for 30 years and could be extended for 50 years. New conditions and agreements would be required after 30 years. Invenergy will be responsible for all disposal costs as part of the 1041 application.

The details of the Towner West project, the second 1041 application considered on Tuesday, are similar to the Towner East project with just a few exceptions in the number of towers and timeline to completion.

Towner West is a proposed 500 MW wind power generation facility in Kiowa County, Colorado. With approximately 168 wind turbines generating 4.5 MW each and spread across approximately 120,000 acres of private land, Towner West will generate enough electricity to power more than 200,000 American homes.

Construction begins in early 2025 and will be finished in 2026. During construction an estimated 300 workers will be in the area.

The proposed Towner West will also include an 8- to 18-mile generator lead (gen-tie) transmission line with interconnection to the Public Service Company of Colorado’s (PSCo) May Valley Substation.

The two projects represent predicted economic benefits to Kiowa County, one of the poorest and least populated counties in the state of Colorado.

The largest and far-reaching benefit from the projects will come in the way of increased property taxes to the special tax districts located within the project areas. Approximately $50 million in property taxes over the life of the project will go to the coffers of Kiowa County and to the current special tax districts of the Town of Sheridan Lake, Plainview School District RE-2, Sheridan Lake-Brandon Cemetery District, Sheridan Lake-Brandon Recreation District, Sheridan Lake Water District, Towner Cemetery District, Towner Recreation District, SE Colorado Water Conservation District, Kiowa County Fire Protection District, and Kiowa County Hospital District.

Invenergy estimates that an additional $120 million will be invested in land leases, land costs, and wages over the life of the two projects.

During the construction period of the projects 200-350 workers are expected to be in the area who will hopefully generate economic benefits for the local restaurants, motels, grocery stores, retail stores and other services. At the completion of the construction phase Invenergy predicts 15-20 full time jobs will be created in the county.

Invenergy also says they will commit sponsorships and project assistance to local groups within the county. Thus far they have contributed to the Kiowa County Fair. They will also develop school curriculum including a workforce training program.

But along with the benefits there are always negative impacts involved in such a project. According to Tina Adamson, Kiowa County Administrator, she has been in a unique position for the past two years and has had ample opportunity to consider what the Towner Wind projects will mean for the county she has chosen to live in, own a business in, and raise her children and grandchildren in.

Adamson stated, “We want this to happen, but we have to be assured that our residents—all residents—are taken care of.”

Adamson went on to list the unique impacts such an unprecedented project will have on a county that has little to no infrastructure currently to support it. She detailed the issues the emergency management and Sheriff’s Office has in the way of manpower and lack of equipment, the limited medical services available in the county, the increased impacts to the landfill, the roads, septic and water systems, social services, and educational services. Another big consideration is the lack of housing in the county. There’s also a shortage of qualified and skilled workers in the county’s workforce. All these issues are being discussed, but the impact fee of 1% will allow the county and the special districts impacted an opportunity to meet the future successfully.

During the public comment section of the hearing nearly every individual that took the opportunity to express their opinion was highly in favor of the two wind projects being built in Kiowa County. Some were neutral about the currently negotiated impact fee as they emphasized the importance of working with Invenergy to ensure the projects happen.

Most, however, urged the commissioners not to move away from the stated 1% fee. Jimmy Brown, who serves on the county’s Planning & Zoning Commission and is a businessman and land owner in the county strongly urged the board to retain the 1% fee. Brown gave several reasons why he felt the fee had to remain at the stated 1% and not be negotiated lower. Brown stated, “The 1% fee is not unreasonable and not overly burdensome.”

Brown told the crowd that he wholeheartedly supports energy development in the county, but he was adamantly opposed to reducing the impact fee for Invenergy because they knew at the beginning what the fee was but thought they may be able to negotiate it down. Brown said Invenergy has been given everything they have asked for by the commissioners stating, “While this is Kiowa County’s first time in working through these negotiations, it is certainly not Invenergy’s first time.” Brown also pointed out that both Xcel Energy and Tri-State paid the 1% fee already and rightfully wondered if Invenergy’s fee was lowered, would those two energy companies expect a refund.

Brown said the negotiations on the impact fees should stop today as we have what they want—wide open spaces, few regulations, good wind and sunshine, and landowners who are excited about putting towers on their property. Brown closed by reminding the commissioners that the county has had to close the courthouse one day per week because of budget constraints, therefore it wouldn’t make sense to negotiate down on a fee that was stated up front and has already had precedence set. It would not make sense when we don’t really know what the impacts are going to be.

As for Invenergy, Alaina Merrill, communications manager with the company, told the Kiowa County Independent, “Invenergy continues to negotiate in good faith with the County to reach an impact fee agreement that provides significant financial benefits to the County. The County will also see financial benefits from sales and property taxes, jobs, and increased activity for local businesses.”

Adamson indicated Invenergy was proposing 0.75% for an impact fee, although no resolution has been made and won’t be made until the Board of County Commissioners make their final decision on both permit applications on March 14, 2024.

According to Adamson, each project's total cost will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion apiece.

There were two other roadblocks placed in front of the two projects being approved and they both came from groups outside of the county. The first opposition to the project came in a letter from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe Administration in Montana telling the county they were concerned with the possibility that the viewshed at Sand Creek would be negatively impacted. “In short, given the importance of the Site, action must be taken to address known viewshed impacts of the Project and potential impacts to human remains, sacred objects, funerary items and other tangible and intangible cultural resources…”

The letter informed Kiowa County that on October 25, 2023, Tribal Administrator and elder William Walksalong provided testimony to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) about the projects. Through his testimony and other comments, Tribal representatives requested that the Commission do their best diligence in protecting the viewshed of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site given its importance to several Tribes. The PUC was told the Tribes wanted a process to identify any potential cultural resources from the area around the Site. Mr. Walksalong noted that the massacre spilled well beyond the boundaries of the Site that Congress had designated.

In response the PUC recognized the potential adverse impacts on the Massacre Site and its “environs.” Further the PUC did not formally approve the Invenergy/Kiowa County project and instructed the project proponent to work with the Tribe to address its concerns.

Invenergy has responded to the situation and according to Merrill, “Invenergy has been working with the Northern Cheyenne and other tribes to consider their experiences, interests, and perspectives, in addition to those of county and state residents.”

However, several comments from landowners who are involved in the two wind projects and who will experience financial gain if the project is approved expressed their strong disagreement at Tuesday’s public hearing concerning the Tribe’s position and the actions taken by the PUC.

Burl Scherler, a landowner who lives quite close to the Historic Site said, “This is not 1864. Things have changed in the county, and they have also changed within the boundaries of the Site. There are buildings there that weren’t there in 1864. Airplanes are allowed to fly overhead with flashing lights.” Scherler does not believe the Tribes have a right to decide what happens on his property as he is the one who has paid taxes on the property. He closed by reminding the audience that the Massacre Site has defined property boundaries that he has always respected.

Doug Tallman, another landowner in the area of the Historical Site pointed out how the Tribes initially effected Xcel’s Pathway Project moving the lines away from the Sand Creek Site in response to their concerns on how the transmission lines would affect the viewshed. “Those people lost out financially.” Tallman pointed out that now the closest tower is in the Towner West project and is approximately 9.5 miles away from Sand Creek. “They should not be able to effect this project by making Invenergy move their towers.”

Adamson told the Independent the commissioners sent a letter to the PUC in regard to the situation and made it clear that both the County and Invenergy were working with the Tribes. She believes the PUC was satisfied with the letter and further that the issues can be resolved.

There was one more objection to the permits filed by Las Animas Minerals, LTD, a company that is a mineral interest owner within or near the boundaries of the proposed project site. The complaint stated, “LAM is an owner of subsurface minerals in the following Application Lands:” (Listing several sections of land within the project).

It went on to state, “LAM objects to the Application on grounds that the Project as proposed may adversely impact LAM’s ability to develop its subsurface mineral interests in violation of Colorado law.”

According to Adamson, LAM’s concerns were included in the application and a Compatible Development Agreement will be determined between the company and Invenergy. “The attorney advised the BOCC that she will add, as a recommendation of the Staff recommendations, that the Applicants must comply with the requirements in the C.R.S. 24-65.5-103.3 regarding this issue and make that a condition of the 1041 permits. But she will not make as a condition of the permit that the Applicant has to enter into the agreement provided by Mr. Beams (LAM) as she determined that it is not within the power of the Permit Authority to require.”

Concerning LAM’s requests, Merrill stated, “Invenergy regularly works with oil and gas leasing companies to ensure clean energy projects and mineral interests co-exist and will do the same for the Towner projects.”

Invenergy looks to have the wind at their backs as their two project applications, including Towner East and Towner West, were generally accepted in an exceedingly positive light. The Kiowa County Commissioners will meet on March 14, 2024, and at that meeting will vote on the final version of the 1041 Land Use Applications. Brown and other citizens have urged the commissioners to be transparent once the decision is made so that the entire community including landowners, business owners, and taxpayers alike will know what their future may hold—hopefully sooner rather than later.

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