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  • Colorado’s Wind Farms

    Posted on July 19th, 2007 Lee Devlin 41 comments
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    About 5 years ago wind farms started popping up in Colorado. They are easy to spot from the air and can be seen for many miles because the structures are so enormous. A modern wind turbine can reach well over 400 feet into the air.

    Over a span of less than 3 decades wind turbines have increased from an average rotor size of 10 meters generating 25KW to a rotor size of 112 meters generating up to 6 MW per turbine. The 3+ MW turbines are generally installed in the ocean about 5-10 miles off shore where the wind is steady. Land based wind turbines are generally rated at less than 2 MW. Each 1 MW of wind energy is enough power for approximately 300 households based on an average U.S. household consumption rate of around 900 kWh per month. The average power available from wind turbines, also called their ‘capacity factor’, is about 1/3 of their rated generating capacity because the wind is not constant. They make their rated power in winds about 20-25 mph and will not generate any more than the rated power even when the wind increases above that speed because it would over stress the system. Above about 55-60 mph, the wind turbine will protect itself by locking its rotor so that the blades will not get damaged.

    Here in Colorado there are many locations where the wind is nearly always blowing on the plains and there aren’t any obstructions on the ground to slow it down. Other than the trees along the Platte river, there is virtually no vegetation taller than a cornstalk between here and Nebraska. And Wyoming has even higher wind and fewer trees than Colorado in the eastern side of the state.

    I was out flying today and took a few photos of the Ponnequin Wind Farm up near the border of Wyoming to take a look at Colorado’s first wind farm which was built about 6 years ago. You can see a photo of it below.

    If you’re curious about the Ponnequin wind farm you can read a little about it here at the American Wind Energy Association website. If you have Google Earth, you can get a satellite view of it here. Or here on Google Maps.

    About 60 miles east of the Ponnequin Wind Farm, the largest wind farm in Colorado called Cedar Creek is currently under construction. During the past few months I’ve been monitoring the progress of it since it’s not far from Greeley, at least not as the crow (or LongEZ) flies, and I’m astonished at how fast it’s getting built. A few months ago, there were only a few towers standing and now they have more than 200+ towers erected. I timed how long it took me to fly from one end to the other and it was 5 minutes, flying at 160 miles an hour which means it stretches 13 miles from east to west. It’s on land that previously didn’t have much use due to sparse population and lack of water for irrigation. I did some quick calculations and realized that this wind farm will generate more than $80M/year in electricity from its 273 wind turbines, based on the average of around $.10/KWh currently paid in the U.S. by consumers. That’s not a bad return since the fuel, a major cost for conventional power plants, is free in the case of wind power.


    Looking down from above on these structures, it’s hard to fathom how big they are. In the picture above, the closest wind turbine has a large truck parked near its base which is virtually invisible in the photo. That gives you an approximate idea of the scale of these structures. Go ahead and click on that image to get a higher resolution photo of it and a better idea of the relative size of the truck and the wind turbine.

    One of the biggest logistical issues with constructing these wind farms is getting the materials to the site. The tower sections take up most of the highway when transported and are nearly 60 feet long per section. It takes 3 of them to make up the tower. Similarly, the rotor blades are enormous, over 100 feet in length. Can you imagine trying to get that to go around a corner?

    Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark is currently building a turbine blade plant in Windsor, CO, just about 10 miles from where I live. This will better accommodate the delivery of large turbine blades to wind farm sites in the western U.S.

    In talking with a rancher in Wyoming recently, it appears that a lot of site surveys have been underway over the years to construct wind farms there, turning what was very marginal land into a valuable resource to provide clean, renewable energy for future generations. Even though the Cedar Creek site seems expansive, and it is, there is so much land in eastern Colorado and Wyoming that would be ideal for wind farms that it’s easy to imagine building them for the next 20 or 30 years. That’s about the average life expectancy of the wind generating equipment, so after they’ve done that, they will get to do it over again.

     

    41 responses to “Colorado’s Wind Farms”

    1. Lee, do you mind if I use your aerial photos for presentations and such? They are very cool.

      Thank you,
      Matt

    2. Hi Matt,

      Yes, you may use these images and thanks very much for asking for permission.

      -Lee

    3. Hi Lee,

      Thanks for the info and pictures of the turbines.

      I linked to your blog to illustrate an article I wrote on radar observations of these turbines. Please see the article for more info.

      -Jim

    4. Hi Jim,

      Thanks for the link to your article. I enjoyed reading about how you can see and hear wind turbines on your weather radar. Nice job!

      -Lee

    5. A couple weeks ago I saw two of these blades being transported on I70. They were absolutely HUGE and I couldn’t figure out what they were. Thanks to your pictures I now have my answer.

    6. Lee,I’m a plumber looking to get out of the destruction field and into renewable energy. What would be the best way to get involved.

    7. Hi Josh,

      I see you’re from Broomfield, CO. If you want to work on wind turbines, GE is always looking for techs out in the Peetz and Lamar areas in eastern CO. You can find the positions on the ge.com website.

      Also, there are a number of solar installers in the area that are about to get very busy and will need people with installation skills. You might want to pick up some solar electric skills to augment your plumbing skills. Check out SEI for training. They are based out of Carbondale, CO but they also have on-line courses. FMI see:

      http://www.solarenergy.org/

      Vestas is building another big wind blade/nacelle factory in Brighton and they are hiring too. Check with SOS staffing in Greeley.

      And by all means, join CRES.org to network with like-minded folks around Colorado.

      Hope that helps.

      -Lee

    8. I’ve got 40 acres about 15 miles south of the Ponnequin wind farm, 1 1/2 miles east of I-25 MP 283. I’ve been talking to my neighbors – who do we talk to about similar wind generators on our properties?

    9. Hi Harry,

      I have written an article about working with wind developers on another website which I recommend you take a look at. As for having 40 acres, I know that seems like a lot of land, but Ponnequin sits on nearly 1300 acres of land which is about two square miles and its 44 turbines are about 1/3 the size that are being installed today. So in the case of Ponnequin, the turbine spacing is about 1 turbine per 30 acres. The modern turbines, being about 3 times larger, require about 50 to 75 acres each.

      The Ponnequin site is also on a bluff, which tends to provide more consistent wind and so like anything else, the best sites are always developed first. As wind becomes more popular, you’ll see more activity and so I’m sure that if you wait a while, you may have someone approach you for wind rights on your property.

    10. I’m not asking just for myself, but for my neighbors as well. Since there are 2 sets of major transmission lines within a quarter mile and a mile, and a large step-down transformer station within a mile, we might be in a good spot for a turbine each – if the powers-that-be are interested – I just don’t know who they are or how to get in touch with them. I’ll look at your paper and see what comes out of that.

      Thanks

    11. is ther any welding involved with erecting the wind turbines. If so do you know the names of any of the contractors.

    12. Hi. I have 369 acres N.E of Hartman, Colorado. I have been approached by a wind company called Air Stream. Do you happen to know anything about them, or about any projects going in in the Prowers / Kiowa county area? There was a huge energy substation and transmission line planned there, but I read somewhere that it was not on the table any more. Any advice or information would be most appreciated.

    13. The wind farms in Lamar are now out of GE’s hands and are operated by Iberdrola Renewables, and Shell Wind

    14. Christopher Byrd

      I’m the Coordinator for a National Science Foundation Grant in my district. I want to set-up a field experience for 27 math and science teachers to help them make connections to wind energy technology in their middle school and high school classrooms. Where do you suggest I take them?

    15. Hi Christopher,
      Since you’re in the Denver area, I’d suggest taking them to NREL which is located just off of I-70 in Golden. They have a visitor’s center that’s open during week days. Outside the center, they have wind turbine blades and cross sections which are quite interesting. There are also some other wind exhibits inside as well as others related to renewable energy. Getting a tour of an actual wind farm is a challenge, because you have to arrange it with the utility company and travel pretty far. The closest one to Denver is Ponnequin and you must travel up to Wyoming to reach its entrance. Also, the utility company only does a small number of tours per year, usually during the warmer months.

    16. I leased 960 acres to Iberdrola Renewable Energy about five years ago. It boarders Cedar Creek wind farm in weld county, CO. It looks like I went with the wrong company. I was wondering if you know any info about Iberdrola?

    17. [...] Bear Creek. Each 2MW Gamesa turbine provides enough electricity for about 600 homes. I’ve written about wind turbines before in my blog because they started springing up in Colorado a few years ago and whenever I [...]

    18. Hi,

      I’m interested in getting as close a look as possible to a wind farm, to see and hear and photgraph them. How might I find where there is one close to a publicly accessible place or road, here in or near CO.?

      Thx,

      Gary

    19. The closest wind farm to Northern Colorado is Ponnequin, but you can’t get in there because it is on private land. The closest turbine is about 1 mile from Rte. 85 in Colorado, but to get into the farm, the access road is actually in Wyoming on a road that connects Rte 85 with I-25. However, it’s gated and locked. I’ve never tried to get to the turbines north of Pawnee Buttes, although I’ve flown over them many times. They are also on private property, but I’m not sure if the roads are gated.

    20. I will be graduating a specific training progrtam soon, and looking for wind farms in CO. Who is hiring?

    21. Lee, I am currently in central Texas and in August will be going to Sweetwater, Texas to TSTC West Texas to complete the Associates degree of Wind Technology. Do you have any advice for me on how to go about jobs after graduation? ANY information will be more than appriciated. Thanks a bunch! -Brandon

    22. Hi Brandon, I’d suggest building up a file on companies that build and maintain these wind farms and then visit their websites frequently. I once stopped by a wind site and the engineer running it was very helpful in providing information on which companies are producing the turbines, which companies are being subcontracted to run them, etc.

      You have to be willing to travel or live in places where there may not be a lot of other people around. The largest wind farms in Colorado are out on the plains and pretty far from any large cities, at least 1 to 2 hours drive. I suspect that will be true of many of the jobs in this field.

    23. Lee,
      I have a background in construction and am currently working as a closet installer. I am a certified welder as well. I’m interested in getting involved in wind energy, possibly as a wind turbine technician. Any suggestions as to how I could get started in this field? Since I do not have electrical experience, it seems many job listings require an associates degree. Before I sign up for classes I was wondering if there was a better way to break into the field sooner (degree takes 2 years). I saw a similar post and reponse from 2 years ago, but I was not sure if things have changed. Any insight you can provide is greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    24. Hi Josh,

      Wind energy is fairly new and so training is rather limited. I noticed that just this term, our local community college (Aims in Greeley, CO) has started offering a wind energy class which is called WTG 100 – Here is its description: Introduction to Wind Industry
      Introduces students to the wind power generation industry. Topics covered will include physics of wind energy, various sizes and types of wind turbines, reading wind maps for finding the best wind locations. Students will also engage in discussions of the impact of the wind industry on social, environmental, economic, and political issues. Three credits.
      However, it looks like there is only one person signed up for it and so it may get canceled. I am not sure where they advertise these wind technician jobs. I think that most of the maintenance at a wind site involves the mechanical parts which can wear out over time and need replacing. An understanding of electricity would be helpful too, of course, especially with respect to safety.

      Vestas, a company that is one of the largest producers of wind turbines, has a series of tutorials on their website: http://www.vestas.com/en/jobs/career-development/internal-learning.aspx You should watch those because if you can get an interview, having some knowledge of how turbines work could certainly put you ahead of the pack.

    25. What info on Two Buttes Wind Farm do you have?
      Across US 287 in Prowers County, NW of Two Buttes.
      mel

    26. Hi Mel, I have never been down to the Two Buttes facility near Lamar, CO. According to info I found by searching for it on the web, it was completed in 2003, making it one of the earlier wind farms in the state. There is another wind farm going up near Twin Buttes, CO north of New Raymer, CO which is in the northern part of the state. When I fly over that way, I’ll take some pictures of it.

    27. Thanks for the info! I’ll definitely watch those Vestas tutorials.

    28. FYI, a good place to see a wind turbine up close (besides NREL in Boulder) is just NW of Kimball NE maybe 1/2 mile out of town, roughly an hour east of Cheyenne WY north off I-80. There is a gravel mining operation adjacent and easy to get close enough to see and hear them.

      Bob

    29. I am interested in putting up a few windmills on my 200 acres that I have just outside of Colorado Springs. Do you know who I can contact for a project like this?

    30. Hello Lee,

      I live near the town of Kiowa, CO and just recently I noticed that wind turbines have been installed east, southeast of town, I’m going to guess ten miles away. Do you know anything about this farm? My main clue they were out there were many redlights flashing on and off in unison at night. Then one clear day a finally saw them out there on the horizon. I may have to take a drive out that way very soon.

    31. Hi Sam, Sorry for the delay, I had to do some research. The American Wind Energy Association used to have a free database on their website that showed all wind projects under construction or complete in all 50 states but it is now a ‘members only’ feature :-(. I managed to find archives of records that had some useful information and it appears that the wind farm going in near you is called the Cedar Point Wind Farm. They have a project website with lots of good information on it. It appears to be on the borders of Elbert and Lincoln County and that lines up with your description of it being ESE from your location in Kiowa although it’s further away than your 10 mile estimate.

    32. Hey Lee can i borrow some info cause I’m doing a project due on Wednesday. So may I borrow some info for the project? I’ll keep the website in my conclusion to thank you about.

    33. Yes, you can and thanks for asking.

    34. Hey Lee

      Would you be able to tell me who runs the Two Buttes Wind Farm.

    35. It appears that it is run by Iberdrola Renewables: http://www.iberdrolarenewables.us/cs_twinbuttes.html

    36. I recently flew from denver to chicago and was able to see some very obvious wind turbines with the 3 blades turning clearly even tho the pilot had just announced that we had reached our cuising altitude and we were very high up. i was surprised that they were so obvious from so far up. I would think that we were somewhere over eastern CO or western Ne. Do you have any info or comments ?

    37. Hi Jan, The turbines you saw could have been the Peetz Table Wind Farm which goes on for about 10 miles and would have been close to your route if you flew from Denver to Chicago. It runs along a ridge in NE Colorado near the Nebraska border. There are actually 3 wind farms in that vicinity that comprise 744 turbines. The first called Cedar Creek starts near the border of CO-WY-NE and continues along the CO-WY border where it meets up with a second wind farm called the Cedar Creek II. Together those two wind farms have 397 turbines. The last of the bunch is the Peetz Table Wind Farm which has 347 turbines and is considered the largest wind farm in the state of CO.

    38. Hi, Great site, very informative. Here in Vermont we are upset that they come in with their federal tax incentives, lease mountain ridges, clearcut, blast the ridges flat, and install 20 or so in their “farm”. The noise bothers neighbors in the valleys, the wildlife is driven away, but the politicians are happy we are “green”. It sounds like our great western states are the places for wind farms, especially as your wind blows pretty constant (ours doesn’t). Thanks again for a great site and good Q & A’s.

    39. Found this site by accident. Pretty cool information. I’m graduating from Northwest Renewable Energy Institute in Vancouver Wa next month. It would be cool to work on a wind farm in Colorado. Any information about farms there would be awesome. Your pictures are amazing.

    40. Hi Lee. Do you do field trips for elementary and middle school students? If not, do you know of any wind farm owners who do? Connie

    41. Hi Connie, When I arranged a group trip to Ponnequin wind farm a few years ago, I called Xcel’s PR department and they put it together for us. They do a number of them per year and so you should be able to call and get an appointment.

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