The wind is blowing in potentially good news as Kiowa County joins the list of areas where renewable energy hopes to establish a presence. Over the past few months, representatives with NorthRenew Energy have been in the county contacting landowners to discuss leasing land for possible construction of the “Eads Prairie Wind Farm”.
As it’s currently described, the project will consist of a two to three year process where NorthRenew Energy, in conjunction with Nature’s Energy Group, will be responsible for the design, permitting, contracting, financing and construction of what will ultimately be a state-of-the-art wind farm providing a nominal 500 megawatts of wind power. The wind turbines will be constructed in north central Kiowa County on land located north of Eads. According to information provided by NorthRenew, “the project will tie into high capacity transmission lines to be built by the major load serving entities (eg. Xcel and/or Tri-State) focused on creating new transmission capacity to accommodate renewable energy generating facilities in Eastern Colorado”.
At this point, the project is in the beginning phases. The company has obtained the necessary permits and held meetings—both individual and group—with land owners in the area to discuss signing lease agreements.
To understand where that fits into the overall plan, it should be noted that this is no easy process. Those two to three years requires completion of multiple steps, each of which is involved in its own right. Just a sampling of what needs to be done includes extensive analysis of the wind and related financial factors, determination of who will buy the power and at what price, feasibility and impact studies for transmission connection and environmental assessments. Additional steps relate to the mechanics of actually building the farm, such as layout and design, procuring a group to engineer and construct the farm along with analysis of costs and contract negotiations.
If the Eads Prairie Wind project becomes a reality, significant benefits are soon to follow. For landowners, there is a relatively sizeable supplement to their income with only limited impact on ranching or farming. There is notable increase in revenue for both the county and the school district. The wind farm will bring both construction jobs and long term, well-paying jobs. Plus, given the core characteristic of sustainability as a reason to embrace renewable energy, this industry has plans of operation that go well into the next century.
NorthRenew Energy is also not the only company currently exploring renewable energy development in the county. According to Tina Adamson, Kiowa County administrator, who is responsible for tracking developments as they occur, “Invenergy has potential plans to place a wind farm in the east end, and Innovative Solar is planning solar development to the west.”
There is one big caveat to the development of all three projects. Completion of both wind farms and the solar farm is dependent upon access to transmission lines, which, for years, showed little to no promise of becoming a reality. However, that scenario appears to be changing as the demand for renewable energy increases. Tri-State Transmission has plans to run a line from Burlington to Lamar, with a target date of 2021. And, while neither Invenergy nor NorthRenew were willing to go on the record, there is the suggestion of progress being made in negotiations with major load serving entities.
While, much like oil and gas, individual landowners stand to gain from this development, it cannot be overlooked that there is a distinct—and enormously needed—advantage for the county, as well.
There is a very basic and brutal reality to economics. An economy either grows or it dies. It’s that simple, and there’s no getting around it.
The economy in Kiowa County is not growing and hasn’t been growing for decades. Unlike other rural counties that have—either through foresight or sheer luck—supplemented their agricultural industry with multi-location businesses, tourism, production of hemp, voting in marijuana production and sales or being the site of multiple oil and gas leases, Kiowa County’s economic development has been largely stagnant for a very long time, and the effects are obvious.
School enrollment slowly dwindling over the years, a total dearth of available housing and an equally devastating lack of new construction, an absence of things to do for entertainment or a variety of places to shop—all of these factors are present, and none of it is exactly breaking news.
However, what might be news is that all of these factors are indicators of a future for Kiowa County that is bleak—at best—unless some type of industry is brought into the area. And, unfortunately, industries in search of places to relocate or expand typically need at least some housing available and at least some of those amenities related to quality of life that Kiowa County is also lacking.
Wind farms require several hundred workers to accomplish and, as stated, several years to complete. During this time, Kiowa County stands to see a significant but temporary boom in population. Not only does this situation provide forward thinking, community invested residents of Kiowa County with an opportunity to potentially profit off a new “market”, once the turbines are in place and the wind farm is operational, the size of the crew needed to operate and maintain is much, much smaller. In other words, lack of housing (for example) will not impede the industry nearly as much as it would if the industry hired more employees on a permanent basis.
Again, all of this is still at the planning stages, so “counting chickens” is still a ways down the road.
Nonetheless, if renewable energy does, indeed, become an industry of significant size in Kiowa County, as these projects suggest they might, here’s hoping that the community—both private and governmental—chooses to look for ways to invest in the community at large and encourage the development of “quality of life” amenities (which, in turn, can spur more economic development) versus simply adding to existing budget reserves or spending new income in other places where others profit instead.