Windfall for Logan County

Ritter, Northeast Colorado celebrate wind power

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Logan County's agricultural community is rebounding from years of drought, thanks to a new kind of crop -- wind.

"No longer do we just raise corn and wheat, sunflowers and cattle. Now, we're farming energy," said state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican rancher who represents the Northeast Colorado district and is a member of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee at the capitol.

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Sonnenberg's comments came during Wednesday morning's groundbreaking ceremony for the Peetz Table Wind Energy Center, which will become the second-largest wind farm in the nation and could one day produce 400 megawatts of electricity through 267 wind turbines. Officials with Florida-based FPL Energy, which will install and operate the turbines, said 400 megawatts is enough electricity to power about 120,000 homes.

For residents of Logan County and the nearby town of Peetz, which has a population of about 350, the turbines will produce more than power. They'll produce dollars.

"This is quite a shot in the arm to Logan County, tax-wise," said Logan County Commissioner Gene Meisner. "This is unbelievable, what's going on."

FPL Energy spokeswoman Mary Wells said the company pays landowners annual fees to lease land for the turbines. The fees are "in the several thousands of dollars per year, per turbine," Wells said. FPL also is paying Logan County for building permits, use taxes, road access and construction.

Jack McLavey, a Logan County commissioner, said FPL's impact on the county currently totals $4 million in use taxes and building permits and $2 million for road access and "rights-of-way."

"This is one of the biggest and best projects we've had in Logan County in many, many years," McLavey said.

The horizon around Peetz is already dotted with about 100 tall, white wind turbines, with long blades that turned in a slow, windmill motion before a clear sky Wednesday morning.

For Logan County, a region that Meisner called "wheat country," the turbines are bringing a breeze of economic renewal to struggling farms.

"This is a great day in Colora--do," said Gov. Bill Ritter, who attended Wednesday's groundbreaking to celebrate the state's "New Energy Economy" that was a cornerstone of his campaign for governor.

More than 100 people showed up for the groundbreaking, which featured live music from the Peetz Junior/Senior High School Band.

"I haven't seen this many people since the last (high school) football game," quipped Peetz Town Mayor Greg Nienhuser.

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