State's Largest Wind Farm a New Cash Crop For Farmers

Renewable energy represents a small economic reprieve for rural Colorado

Thermometers were hurrying toward 100 on an oven-hot day in June when local farmers and elected officials gathered near Limon to celebrate the enormous change in the local landscape. All around on the swelling hills were the 262-foot-tall turbines of Xcel Energy’s $1 billion Rush Creek project, Colorado’s newest and largest wind farm.

“I enjoy every day I look out the kitchen window and see the majestic wind turbines in every direction,” says Jan Kochis, who farms 10,500 acres of dryland wheat, corn and other crops with her husband, Virgil. “It’s a new cash crop for us. It doesn’t matter whether it rains or hails. As long as the wind blows, we’re fine.”

The Kochises and other land owners will get annual payments guaranteed for 25 to 30 years. In addition, Xcel will pay property taxes to the five counties in which the 300 turbines are located. The wind farm will also need 30-plus technicians to service them, at least some of them presumably living in local towns. The Great Plains have been hollowing out for the better part of a century, but renewable energy represents a small economic reprieve for rural Colorado.

This is mostly a Colorado-grown venture, as the components for harnessing the winds of the world were manufactured at Vestas factories in Brighton (blades and nacelles), Pueblo (towers) and Windsor (blades). Construction began in early 2017 and all turbines were expected to be operational by Halloween 2018.

Xcel has been adding wind and other renewable generation because of falling costs. Utility spokesman Mark Stutz says Xcel would have surpassed the state mandate of 30 percent in advance of the 2020 deadline even without Rush Creek’s 600 megawatts of generating capacity. “Renewables — particularly wind — are being added today for economic, not mandated, reasons,” he says.

More renewables are coming. Last year, Xcel proposed closing two aging coal-burning units in Pueblo a decade early. The plan being reviewed by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in August called for wind, solar and natural gas to replace the lost generation. The switch-over would push generation from renewables to more than 50 percent for Xcel, which provides more than 60 percent of Colorado’s electricity.

Categories: Energy, Industry Trends