Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Commissioners approve more wind towers for Lincoln County

By Will Bublitz

After listening to lawyers wrangle for two hours about surface and subsurface property rights, the Lincoln County Commissioners approved a development permit for a proposed wind energy farm in the county’s northeastern corner during their Monday, Dec. 8 meeting.

The decision by the commissioners allows Nereo GC Lincoln, LLC to move forward with its plans to construct up to 176 turbine towers north of the town of Arriba. Before any construction can be done, the company must still obtain building permits from the county.

The commissioners acted upon a recommendation for approval from the Lincoln County Land Use Board. That board had initially rejected Nereo’s application in a 5-1 vote on September 25 because the company had not secured a transmission line easement and had not contacted all mineral rights owners in the area within the area of the proposed project.

After a two-month continuance, the Land Use Board met again November 20 to reconsider Nereo’s application. They approved it unanimously with the following three conditions:
Nereo come into agreement with the mineral interest owners
A working water well be established prior to the construction of the operations/maintenance building
Nereo must reach a road-use agreement with Lincoln County.

At the commissioners’ December 8 meeting, an attorney representing Nereo said the company has been making “commercially reasonable efforts and was negotiating in good faith to achieve surface use agreements with the separate mineral owners prior to starting construction.” He argued the development permit was consistent with what Lincoln County had approved in the past for other wind energy developers. By granting that  permit, Nereo would be able to move forward with its plans to secure financing and finalize other requirements before proceeding with the project.

Three representatives of Cascade Petroleum and Prairie Minerals were also present. Prior to the meeting, their attorney had submitted a 20-page letter to the board detailing a total of 19 objections to the granting of the permit.

During the meeting, that attorney asked the commissioners to slow down the entire process of approving the permit, including taking the issue to the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission. She said this is necessary because the proposed wind turbine sites might interfere with the possible drilling of oil and gas wells in the future. 

One of the Prairie Mineral representatives present argued that preventing interference with potential drilling sites was essential because some of the mineral rights owners had been “paying taxes for 40 years” on these areas and deserved to “get a return on their investments.”

Countering that argument, the Nereo representatives said the specific sites for each wind turbine had yet to be determined by the company’s engineers. Once determined, negotiations with the mineral rights owners could then take place.

During the meeting, maps of the proposed wind turbine sites were presented and discussed.
In response to the debate over the permit, Lincoln County Attorney Stan Kimble told those present that the specific engineering details about the placement of wind turbines and oil/gas wells was beyond the technical expertise of the board to determine. He also said the granting of the development permit for the project does comply with state regulations.

Additionally, Kimble pointed out that Nereo would be required to meet all of the Land Use Board’s conditions for the permit. Specifically, the board would have to be “satisfied that negotiations with mineral interest owners” had been conducted before any future building permits for the wind turbines would be granted.

After some further discussion, the three commissioners voted unanimously top approve the development permit.

The proposed Nereo project will be the fourth wind energy farm in Lincoln County. The first wind energy project built in the county was the 139-turbine tower Cedar Point Wind Energy Project constructed north of Limon in 2011 by Enbridge, a Canadian-based energy project. It was followed in 2012 by the construction between Limon and Genoa of 250 towers of Limon 1 and 2 project by NextEra Energy Resources, a Juno Beach, Fla. company. NextEra’s Limon 3 project, consisting of more than 100 towers, is currently under construction between Genoa and Arriba.

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