11 March 2009: Green energy can be boon to county

Green energy could be a boon to county

Peggy Stokstad, President of the Clear Creek Economic Development Corporation, opened a recent symposium on renewable energy the CCEDC jointly sponsored with the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation by declaring it’s not an issue of “if we are going to develop the county’s renewable energy sources, but how.”

“We are sitting on a gold mine of natural resources,” said Stokstad, “and if we don’t act, we’ll be left in the dust.”

The allusion to Clear Creek’s mining past was apt given extraction was what sustained CCC then, and it will be RE development that will provide the county a sustainable economic future.

The 50 participants heard from and asked insightful questions of several speakers, including Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp, who spoke to the potential for both personal- and business-sized efforts as well as industrial-sized wind farms.

Those efforts not only would contribute to our collective energy needs, but also would contribute mightily to the county’s and school district’s tax revenues.

Success has been found elsewhere. In Oregon, the Renewable Northwest Project reported in 2005 the first phase of wind energy development “accounted for a 10 percent increase, or $321,200, in Sherman County property taxes during its first year of operation with only 16 turbines,” with land owners expecting “to receive royalty payments that range from $2,000 to $4,000 annually for each turbine.”

With the Henderson Mine’s days numbered, that information is quite appealing and encouraging.

In his address to Congress and the nation, President Obama declared doubling our supply of RE over the next three years a national goal.

“We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country,” said the President. “And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

“But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.”

Developing RE is not only a wise course economically and environmentally, it is now patriotic and ethical.

Some question a wind farm spreading across the upper tracts of Clear Creek, so I asked Ed Rapp of the CCWF about its feasibility and viability.

“100 percent and 100 percent,” he said without hesitation.

“It would be a boon to the county’s economy, diversifying it forever.”

Other concerns, including impacts on avian and other wildlife and the viewscape, noise, structural integrity, and historical preservation, are being addressed, particularly those about wildlife, noise, and integrity. Satisfying concerns about visual impact and historic preservation will be more elusive for they must meet subjective criteria to pass muster: the eye of the beholder.

For their parts, the Sierra Club’s and Audubon Society’s official positions are favorable towards the development of wind energy.

The AS makes clear it “strongly supports properly-sited wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming.”

The President’s words, says the Society, “made absolutely clear that the fate of our future economy will be determined by our ability to re-power America with clean, renewable energy that will stimulate green jobs for the 21st century.”

In Colorado, Governor Ritter created the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO), the mission of which is “to lead Colorado to a New Energy Economy by advancing energy efficiency and renewable, clean energy resources.”

Here at the county, Land Use Division Director Jo Ann Sorensen says, “Revisions are being proposed by the Planning Department, partly in response to the County goal of generating or saving 1 gigawatt (1,000 kilowatts) of energy by 2018. We would like to remove some of the barriers that have been identified to the efficient generation of renewable energy.”

Accordingly, the PC is considering revisions to the county’s zoning regulations that will affect small wind and solar systems. Those might include raising the height limits for structures (towers) from 35’ to 150’ and decreasing setbacks.

Regarding the fit of RE with the county’s past and environment, there need not be conflict.

Commissioner Stulp, who has had considerable experience with development in sensitive areas, told me, “Wind development has observed a high regard for issues around historical features, wildlife (avian) concerns, and residents. Because wind development has a relative small foot print, there is usually some flexibility on placement of turbines, utilities, roads, substations, etc, and direct impacts can be avoided in many situations.”

As Stokstad noted, RE development has become a question of how, but it’s also about when.

About that Rapp says, “Time is the real resource to be managed properly. Don’t rush, but don’t dawdle either.”

Looking at other communities’ experience, this could all happen soon, like over the next 12 months. So, the time is nigh.

The conversation, you’re invited to be part of, will continue in a public forum at the Planning Commission’s March 18th meeting at 6:30 in Idaho Springs’ City Hall.

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