CATHY PROCTOR, Denver Business Journal, July 31, 2009
“The world is changing,” said Andrew Spielman, a partner at the Denver office of Hogan & Hartson LLC who works on renewable energy projects.
Spielman was part of a panel discussing issues in the renewable energy sector at the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s annual natural gas strategy conference. “There are more complexities with renewable projects,” he said, “and it’s no longer an assumption that the environmental community will approve and support renewable projects.”
Among the larger considerations of renewable energy:
- Big wind farms and solar power plants take up a lot of land. Whether it’s for towering wind turbines or acres of solar panels, additional land is needed for construction areas and support services such as workers and storage yards.
- Rural roads accustomed to a few cars and tractor traffic often need upgrades to handle heavy construction trucks and semis laden with towers, nacelles and turbine blades.
- Often, the remote new wind farms and solar power plants need a new transmission line — with its own set of construction impacts — to get the renewable power to cities and towns, the panelists said.
For example, the Peetz Table Wind Farm in northeastern Colorado, owned by a subsidiary of big energy company FPL Group Inc. (NYSE: FPL) of Juno Beach, Fla., generates 400 megawatts of power from 267 wind turbines that sprawl across 80 square miles.
The wind farm, which started operating in 2007, also required the construction of a 78-mile transmission line to connect it to the grid and get power to the wind farm’s sole client, Xcel Energy Inc.
It’s called “energy sprawl,” akin to the idea of “urban sprawl,” said Tim Sullivan, panelist and acting state director for the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
“All energy has a footprint, and renewable energy has to be a concern for anyone concerned about land-based habitat,” he said. “We need to treat renewables and oil and gas equally on their footprints.”
That doesn’t mean, Sullivan said, that every square inch of ground in Colorado should be off-limits to energy development. “We don’t have to protect every inch of ground,” he said.
“We can make trade-offs.”
One area of land good for wind energy might be “traded” for another piece that’s good for wetlands or grasslands where birds flourish, he said.
People who live near wind farms also are growing more aware of their impacts, Spielman said.
There’s the height issue. A wind turbine can soar 400 feet from the base to the top of the blade, he said. That’s about the height of the Tabor Center’s office building.
Also, there are new “flicker” problems — stemming from light flashing off the rotating blades as they go around about once a second. Turbines also make a repetitive, low-key “vrroomp” noise as they rotate, he said.
State regulators are becoming more aware of the impacts from renewable and alternative energy projects, said Kate Fay, energy manager at the Colorado Department of Health & Environment.
“All energy projects have impacts,” she said. “There is no free ride. The impacts from renewables may be small now, but there’s not that many of them out there.”