Get Big Pivots

Guzman Energy achieved a milestone with completion of a 145-megawatt wind farm on an often- blustery piece of Colorado geology called the gangplank


by Allen Best

Completion of the 145-megawatt Panorama Wind Farm was celebrated on Tuesday on the wind-rich but sparsely-populated uplands of geography in northern Colorado that geologists call the gangplank.

For Leeward Renewable Energy, the project developer and operator, this is the third and final project just south of Colorado’s borders with Nebraska and Wyoming. The first project, Cedar Creek, was built in 2007. Another, Mountain Breeze, followed. This third project gives Leeward 600 megawatts in the trio of projects. Now, transmission capacity has fully been allocated.

Jason Allen, the chief executive of Leeward, pointed out that Colorado has now surpassed Texas for wind generation in the company’s portfolio of 24 generating assets spread across nine states.

More is likely to follow in Colorado during the next eight to nine years. Xcel Energy alone has plans – already approved conceptually by Colorado regulators – for new wind, solar, and other assets that, along with potentially more than 600 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, will cost $9 to $10 billion.

Tri-State and United Power, if it succeeds in departing Tri-State, will add more demand for cheaper but also cleaner renewables. Ditto Platte River and other utilities.

The dimensions were emphasized by State Sen. Chris Hansen.

“We will build two or three times more in the next 10 to 15 years,” said Hansen, a Democrat from Denver, of renewable generation in Colorado.

Wearing cowboy boots for the occasion, Hansen described Panorama in the context of the push for renewable energy across Colorado. He said it was a “win-win-wind” situation: Jobs, new property taxes for Weld County, and lower-cost electricity for consumers.

He also described clean energy as a bi-partisan effort. He pointed out that 90% of bills that became laws in Colorado in the last session had bipartisan support.

“We should not be depressed about the news we are reading. A lot of things can get done. Let’s stay focused on what we can get done,” he said. “This is the tip of the iceberg as far as I am concerned.”

What he didn’t say, but which deserves note, is that some of the big bills, including those that he sponsored, have gotten only one or two Republican votes.

But Hansen has indeed secured Republicans’ support here and there – including testimony from a Weld County commissioner in the last legislative session in support of a bill that, among many other elements, would have created a platform for payments to farmers for practices that result in greater carbon sequestration.

The bill failed, perhaps because of scheduling problems, but Hansen promises he will return in the next session with an even better bill with many of the same ideas.

That county commissioner, Scott James, a Republican, also spoke at the ceremony conducted under a white tent on the short-grass prairie. He demonstrated why he enjoys success as a podcaster, in addition to being a politician. He was at times funny as he extolled the virtues of Weld County, while also inserting key words appealing to right-tilting audiences. Weld County, for example, is a place that celebrates both “opportunity and freedom.”

Because of its size, comparable in area to Connecticut, Weld County has long ranked as a national leader in agricultural production. More recently, it has become notable for its energy production. It is far and away the No. 1 oil-producing county in Colorado. But it’s not just drill-baby-drill, said James. “We harvest that energy that is above the ground as well as that which is below.”

The electricity from the wind farm, enough to meet the needs of 55,000 homes, is being purchased by Guzman Energy. Since being founded in 2013, the company has been rapidly securing contracts to deliver wholesale electricity to utilities serving smallish towns, electrical cooperatives, and tribes. In New Mexico, the town of Aztec and Kit Carson Electric in Taos were first, starting in 2016. Guzman has more recently begun supplying electricity to the Jicarilla Apache tribal nation, the city of Raton, and the Acoma Pueblo.

In Colorado, Guzman serves power to Delta-Montrose Electric, Holy Cross Energy, the Fountain municipal utility, and the Arkansas River Power Authority. It has also helped customers build out their solar capacity.

Chris Miller, the president of Guzman, identified Morgan Stanley as “giving us great support in being able to develop this.” As impressive as the technology of wind is, he also pointed to the deal-making to make such projects happen.

See also: a talk with Leeward Renewable Energy CEO Jason Allen about increments in wind technology and the importance of stable federal policy

As for that gangplank mentioned at the outset, it consists of an ancient seabed that has not been eroded. When driving on Interstate 80 from Nebraska through Cheyenne and westward toward Laramie, you are driving up the gangplank as described by John McPhee in his book, “Rising from the Plains.” To the south and north are the two forks of the Platte Valley, both lower in elevation.

Pawnee Buttes is part of that ancient sea bed, and so are those places of northern Colorado. Being higher, they have better wind. For that reason. they were among the first to be developed in Colorado.

The wind farm is named for a geological formation located a few miles north called Panorama Point. At 5,429 feet, it’s the highest point in Nebraska.

Allen Best
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