Generally speaking, eastern Colorado has always possessed tremendous wind resources. Until recently, though, local wind development was largely untapped due to a lack of transmission access. However, a pair of major transmission lines planned in the area promises to open up wind development, including TradeWind Energy’s planned 600 MW wind farm located 15 miles north of Cheyenne Wells, Colo.
Lured by the site’s ample resources – characterized as having a wind resource approaching 9 m/s – TradeWind began pre-construction tasks at Cheyenne Ridge, such as putting up meteorological towers and signing land lease agreements with landowners. In time, the developer had locked up 135,000 acres with more than 50 local landowners. TradeWind had figured that the power produced by Cheyenne Ridge would be sold to local and regional electric utilities.
According to Matt Jacobs, TradeWind Energy’s senior vice president of development, the backstory of Cheyenne Ridge is typical of wind farms that were started but soon back-burnered when unforeseen factors emerged. In the case of Cheyenne Ridge, the developer had envisioned the wind farm interconnecting with the Eastern Plains Transmission Project (EPTP), a sweeping series of transmission lines planned across western Kansas and eastern Colorado by Tri-State Generation and Transmission in 2007. In fact, Jacobs recalls, the EPTP lines were the primary reason that specific location was chosen in which to build.
“The proposed coal generators near Garden City, Kan., never came to fruition, so there was no longer a need for the associated transmission,” Jacobs explains, “and as the years went by, the EPTP faded away.”[adright zone=’190′]
And with no visibility to interconnection in site, Cheyenne Ridge sat idle for the better part of a decade. Although interconnection is the primary project attribute in wind farm planning, it’s more dire in intermountain states such as Colorado because the area is not recognized as a regional transmission organization (RTO) by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“Without an RTO, each utility will do what’s best for their own stakeholders,” Jacobs explains. “Without a motivation for a larger regional benefit, large coordinated transmission projects had an uphill battle getting built. As a result, wind development has been hampered not only in Colorado, but across the Western U.S., as well.”
The other challenge relates to cost. In Colorado, a wind farm must interconnect into each utility’s transmission system or pay a so-called “wheeling” charge to get the output to another utility. If Colorado were recognized as an RTO, developers such as TradeWind could simply provide energy to a broad transmission system/market comprising multiple utilities. For example, wind farms in Oklahoma can provide energy to more than 30 utilities without incurring a “wheeling” charge.
Thankfully, Colorado sought to address the chicken and egg dilemma developers face by enacting and signing S.B.100, a sweeping bill that established requirements for utilities to evaluate and improve electric transmission facilities to meet Colorado’s existing and future energy needs.
S.B.100 to the rescue
Signed into law by then-Gov. Bill Ritter in 2007, S.B.100 also promotes the use of renewable energy, such as wind. The legislation identifies Energy Resource Zones to aid the delivery of electricity to Colorado consumers and/or the development of new electric generation facilities, such as wind energy.
As a result of S.B.100, area utilities Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission unveiled two major transmission projects that stretch to eastern Colorado.
First, Xcel’s 600 MW Rush Creek wind farm includes a 96-mile, 345 kV transmission line that can accommodate up to 1,600 MW of wind energy.
The second line is Tri-State’s Burlington-Lamar, a 90-mile, 230 kV transmission line. Although not as large as the Xcel project, “Tri-State’s line is a step in the right direction,” Jacobs explains. Both the new Burlington-Lamar line and the new Xcel Rush Creek line generally follow in the path of previously planned transmission projects. And both lines figure to jump-start TradeWind’s Cheyenne Ridge wind farm.
“The hope was [the new line] would be 345 kV,” he says. Nonetheless, Jacobs notes the lines are significant because they demonstrate that utilities are coming back around in Colorado after years of inactivity.[adleft zone=’190′]
“A more integrated approach to transmission [meaning fewer long gen ties] and wind over the past decade in the eastern plains would have led to lower-cost wind energy for the ratepayers in Colorado,” he says. “It does appear that [development] is starting to change with the two new planned lines in the area.”
More importantly, the Xcel and Tri-State lines breathe new life into Cheyenne Ridge, as it features a 115 kV transmission line that runs north to south through the project – meaning both planned transmission lines are interconnecting options for TradeWind.
Although TradeWind Energy has not named a turbine supplier, other aspects of the project are taking shape. In fact, 65,000 acres are currently leased and can accommodate the first phase of development. According to TradeWind, the start of construction will come in 2018 at the earliest. If the project begins construction as planned, the earliest date of commercial operation will come at the end of 2018, according to Jacobs.