Wind Farm Changing Fortune of Colorado Town

By Anthony Mestas
The Pueblo, Colorado Chieftain
November 16, 2003

LAMAR - The convoy of tractor trailers started rolling towards the Emick Ranch near Lamar last month - each carrying what looked like large, hollow tubes lying on their sides.

As the trucks pulled up to the ranch gate, the second stage of a project that many say will energize Southeastern Colorado's economy got under way.

The hollow tubes were the components of what soon will become part of the fifth-largest wind farm in the country.

Colorado has strong wind resources - an estimated 6 million acres of windswept lands, particularly on the eastern plains - so the construction of what is now called the Colorado Green Wind Project has everyone involved feeling good, especially the Bob Emick family whose land will be the home of 98 of the project's 108 1.5-megawatt wind turbines.

The wind farm, located 30 miles south of Lamar, will encompass 11,840 acres of land leased from 14 ranches, 11 of which bear the Emick family name.

"There are parts of the land that we all own, there's parts that mom and dad own and there's parts of it that us kids own individually," said Kenneth Emick, one of the eight Emick children.

The Emick family all agree that the new wind farm will enhance them financially and that, so far, they have enjoyed the construction process.

"We don't have to worry about cow prices anymore," laughed Helen Emick, Bob's wife.

Helen said that the benefits from this project will be different because the family finally will have enough money to help others.

"It will free us up so we can do a lot of things for other people - charities and things of that nature," she said.

Kenneth, 39, and his older brother, Michael, 45, said that the family, which runs a cow-calf operation on the ranch, will lose little if any land following the construction, despite having 21 miles of crisscrossing roads added to the land.

"Nothing will change with our land other than small access roads," Michael said.

"We lose a little bit of land with the new roads, which will be 16 feet wide, and the small turbine pads for access, but overall the percentage of the land that they will actually use is pretty minimal," Kenneth added.

Landowners will be able to continue to use most of the land underneath the turbines for grazing.

"When they are finished, they will shrink the roads to 16 feet and reseed the unused land," Michael said.

Landowners will receive a percentage of the gross sale of energy. "That's how we get paid for this," Helen said.

At 162 megawatts once it's up and running, the new wind farm will produce enough electricity each year to meet the needs of more than 50,000 homes.

Since the construction of the access roads and the turbine pads started in August, Prowers County Commissioner Leroy Mauch said that as many as 300 workers have been on the project and have spent plenty of time in the town of Lamar.

Mauch said that the county has benefited economically the past few months because there have been so many more people in the area working and they have spent money in the county.

"I think every motel in Lamar has been full - and even the trailer park has been full," Mauch said.

He said that the project is a dream come true not only for Prowers County but all of Southeastern Colorado.

"It's an environmental plus for this area. What is greater than having a wind farm in Southeast Colorado where we get plenty of wind and it's free, clean and there's no water, gas or oil involved? It's just a plus all the way around - it's the greatest thing that has happened to this area and it's a blessing to Prowers County and Southeast Colorado," Mauch said.

Mauch said that because of the property tax generated from the project, the community will receive more than $750,000.

"That's a blessing for us because we have had some struggles getting our budget balanced this year. So it will help us out next year," Mauch said. "It's going to be a real boom for our county."

Mauch said that the wind farm also will produce new jobs. "There will be around 15 to 20 new jobs coming from this project and that's just another plus," Mauch said.

With components being shipped by both rail and truck, the prairie on the 30,000-acre X-S and Triangle Box ranches, owned by the Emick family, has turned into a massive mess of work trucks, cranes and other types of service equipment. The workers already have erected several wind generator towers. But it hasn't bothered the Emicks.

"We just go about our business as we always do," the brothers said.

"The workers have been real mannerly and they have kept a good working relationship, " Helen said.

Kenneth said that there are workers on the site six days a week - 10 hours a day.

"Once they (workers) get going, they move fast - they have been great with us and real friendly," Michael said. "We have had no major conflicts so far."

Towers for the generator are erected in four sections and, when complete, rise 262 feet above the ground. Smaller cranes are used for the first three tower sections, then a huge crane with 100 tons of counterweight and a boom that reachers nearly 300 feet into the air is rigged to set the top tower section, the generator housing, and an assembly including a hub and three blades.

The base section of the towers alone weighs 104,000 pounds; the low-mid section, 96,000 pounds; the upper-mid section, 82,000 pounds; and the top tower section, 70,000 pounds, for a total tower weight of 352,000 pounds. Add to that the 104,000-pound generator housing and the 78,000-pound blade assembly, and each generator weighs in at more than 530,000 pounds or 265 tons. The blades are 120 feet long and can spin up to 140 mph. The Emicks said that 300 yards of concrete go into each base, which is poured in an octagon approximately 47 feet across and loaded with steel reinforcing bars and anchor bolts. The tower bases, however, are buried about 4 feet beneath the ground, and only a base about 16 feet in diameter is visible above the ground.

Power from each of the turbines is routed underground to an electrical power substation located on the east end of the Emick Ranch just adjacent to U.S. 287.

From there, voltage is stepped up and the power is routed into a high-voltage transmission line that runs about 40 miles to the northeast, connecting to existing power lines at the Comanche substation northeast of Lamar.

Headquarters for the project has been set up alongside U.S. 287 just south of Gobbler's Knob.

Last month Portland, Ore.-based PPM Energy Inc., which currently has 750 megawatts of new wind power in operation or under construction, and Shell WindEnergy, a division of energy giant Shell Group that operates 240 megawatts of wind generation, purchased the project from GE Wind Energy for $212 million.

GE bought the project from Enron last year, so the Emicks have seen three changes in ownership over the last five years.

The wind project was jeopardized in 2002, when Enron Wind's parent company Enron Corp filed for bankruptcy. Unlike other Enron ventures, the wind farm promised real revenues and talks were resumed. A new contract was successfully negotiated when GE Power Systems purchased Enron Wind and committed to move forward with the project.

The family was originally approached by Enron 5 years ago to set up five anemometers which gather wind information. Enron gathered information for five years, according to Helen Emick. From the data collected, designers decided the exact location of the turbines. "We signed an option easement with them (Enron) where if they saw what they liked in their data, then they could exercise their option on our land," Kenneth said.

When Enron faced bankruptcy, Michael and Kenneth said that they were worried about the future of the project.

"We were watching MSNBC when we first heard the news about Enron, and we thought the wind farm wasn't going to happen because they collapsed - but they told us if we sat tight someone else would buy it and take over the project and that's just what happened," Kenneth said.

Through each change of ownership each landowner's contract transferred, according to Michael.

The Emicks said that there will be plenty of turbines up and running in December.

"I think the new windmills will be pretty," Helen said. "We used to have a bunch of old ones (windmills) around here - I like the way they look."

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