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Wind rush

El Paso County may not have gold, oil or natural gas; but it does have wind, and the county’s wind is poised to change from an irritant to an economic asset.In September, Clipper Windpower Development Co. held an open house in Calhan to provide information about the company’s plans to build a power transmission line from its proposed Golden West Wind Project south of Calhan to a substation in Falcon.According to a detailed map, the transmission line’s proposed route is west from the wind farm on the hills south of Calhan, north along Soapweed Road and west along Highway 24 to Falcon.A portion of the proposed transmission line runs along the Rock Island Regional Trail, from Peyton to Falcon. An easement from the county is required for the route to be viable.At the open house, Clipper displayed materials that indicated El Paso County would be compensated for granting the easement and upon construction of the transmission line. Neither amount was disclosed.For Clipper to get the easement, the El Paso County Parks Board must recommend it for approval, and the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners must approve it at a public hearing.”We’re proposing this route for first consideration because it’s the least invasive and avoids dense residential areas as much as possible,” said Kathy Fay, project asset coordinator for Clipper.A new transmission line is necessary because neither Mountain View Electric Association nor the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association has the capacity to carry the 200 megawatts of electricity the wind farm will generate, said Darryl Edwards, manager of MVEA’s member services department.Obtaining the easement is just a first step.Before Clipper can build the transmission line, the BOCC will have to approve a construction permit. Building the wind farm will require another set of permits.If approved, the project will create construction jobs for the transmission line, and the wind farm itself will create about 105 jobs, said Clipper representative Casey Willis.Some of the jobs will be general construction jobs that can be filled by local workers; others will require special training.The project’s plan calls for 80 to 100 towers spread over 14,000 acres and will require 10 to 12 full-time workers to maintain, he said.According to its Web site, this is Clipper’s first project in Colorado. The company has other projects in Iowa, Texas, Maryland and Wyoming, as well as projects in Latin America.Clipper manufactures its turbines in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The blades may be manufactured in the United States or imported, but they won’t be manufactured by Vestas Wind Systems in Pueblo, Colo., because Clipper turbines aren’t compatible with Vestas blades, Willis said.Clipper materials show the transmission line and wind farm will generate $1 million in property tax payments, benefiting the Calhan School District, the county’s road and bridge fund, the Calhan fire district and the Pikes Peak Library District.Most of the people attending the open house were positive about the project.”This will be huge for this area. It’s a gigantic first leap,” said Falcon businessman Jason Gray.Raymond McCarthy, who lives near Calhan and north of the proposed transmission line, said the project is an opportunity for jobs in the area. “Following the highway is a good idea,” he said.Tom Cline of Falcon said the project will support other industries in the area, and will be a big benefit to Calhan.Not everyone was happy.Property owners next to the proposed easement asked why the transmission line couldn’t be put underground.Fay said Clipper prefers the overhead line because transmitting electricity underground for long distances is difficult and expensive.The exact path the proposed transmission line will take in developed areas of Falcon, such as the intersection of Old Meridian Road and Highway 24, hasn’t been completely worked out, and some could be put underground, she said.Jim and Dee Ozburn, owners of Falcon Food Store and Campground, also own a parcel in the area where the proposed transmission line heads north to connect to the Fuller substation between Highway 24 and Woodmen Road.Whether the lines are overhead or underground, giving Clipper an easement will make the land unusable for development, Ozburn said, adding that Clipper’s current offer of compensation is too low.Krista Jo Gordon, development manager for the project, said construction is planned to start in 2012. But before construction can start, Clipper must find a buyer for the electricity, Gordon said.Although plans call for the proposed transmission line to connect to the substation across Woodmen Road from MVEA’s Falcon office, the wind farm will not have a direct benefit to MVEA or its customers, Edwards said.That substation is jointly operated by Tri-State, Colorado Springs Utilities and Xcel Energy, Willis said.According to its Web site, Clipper Windpower is a public company trading on the London stock exchange. In December, United Technologies Corp. invested $206 million in the company in return for shares of Clipper stock.

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