In this, the third piece in my series on The Great Renewable Land Rush in Yuma County, Colorado (read the first two here and here) I’ll provide some background on the logistical machinations behind what could prove to be the most significant revolution in land use since the homestead act invited thousands of settlers to break sod in a semi-arid region that had never before seen a plow.
(Obviously, the primary motivation behind this (potential) revolution is global warming. As I stated in my previous piece, I do not get into debates about this subject. Global warming is real and it’s serious. If you believe otherwise, you’re wrong. End of discussion.)
In 2019, in response to the threat posed by global warming, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed the Climate Action Plan To Reduce Pollution. Within that bill is a state-mandated goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. All electric utilities must comply with this reduction.
One of those electric utilities is Xcel Energy, a company based in Minnesota which distributes electricity (and natural gas) to millions of homes and businesses in eight states, including 80% of Colorado’s population. With the goal of meeting the Climate Action Plan’s 2030 deadline, Xcel is preparing an ambitious project called Colorado’s Power Pathway. The pathway is a transmission line that will consist of several segments that will eventually convey electrons from eastern and southeastern Colorado to a pair of sites near Denver and Greeley.
The final destination of those electrons will not necessarily be within Colorado; power demands and economic considerations could see a portion of them distributed into the larger US power grid. And some of those electrons could end up back in Yuma County, where our wonderful quasi-socialist co-op, YW Electric (whose workers fear neither wind nor snow nor gravity), is likely to have a tough time affording the infrastructure that would be required if they were to try to meet the 80% reduction in carbon emissions on their own.
With sections due to be completed between 2025 and 2027, the transmission line itself is going to be a massive project. The cables will be stretched between towers that’ll range from 120 to 190 feet tall. Construction will require cooperation from landowners, attention to wildlife, and a million other factors, some of which will doubtless prove to be inconvenient. Xcel clearly believes that these inconveniences — which include aesthetics (there’s nothing pretty about powerlines), politics (there’s nothing pretty about hucksters inventing Chinese hoaxes), land rights (there’s nothing pretty about excursions into private property), and so on —are outweighed by the potential benefits (i.e., meeting the Climate Action Plan’s deadline while simultaneously turning a profit).
With the Power Pathway, Xcel is providing the means of transport for the electrons but they will not be generating the electrons themselves. It’s sort of like the Panama Canal. Once the canal was built, the US Army Corps of Engineers packed their bags and moved elsewhere; the ships would arrive on their own. If the Panama Canal analogy doesn’t work for you, try Field of Dreams: the Climate Action Plan is Shoeless Joe’s phantom voice whispering “If you build it, he will come”, Xcel is Kevin Costner clearing out his corn for a baseball diamond, and the Power Pathway is the baseball diamond itself.
Remaining within this analogy (and, perhaps, stretching it beyond its usefulness), who is going to play Kevin Costner’s dead father, the “he” in “if you build it, he will come”?
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you Engie, the French-based, multinational, super-huge, utility company that hopes to introduce hundreds of ginormous wind turbines into a landscape whose primary visual appeal is the absence of vertical features on the horizon.
I’ll have more to say about Engie in part four of this series.
As I prepare my next column, I’d like to leave you with the answer to one of the more controversial issues around wind turbines: how should one pronounce “turbine”? I generally pronounce the second syllable to rhyme with “bin”. Sticklers will tell you that the second syllable should rhyme with “fine”. Those same sticklers will tell you that “coyote” has three syllables. (Here in Yuma County, we typically pronounce it as “kai-oat”). As far as I’m concerned, the actual speaking patterns of regional dialects take precedent over the dictionary’s theoretical generalizations any day of the week. Conclusion: ignore the sticklers and pronounce “turbine” however you want.