On the hottest day of the year so far, dozens of Elbert County residents, local and state elected officials and Xcel Energy representatives gathered at the home of Jan and Virgil Kochis in Matheson, to get a peek at the latest of 30 wind turbines that were recently completed on the Kochis property, as part of Xcel’s first major wind farm project: Rush Creek Wind Farm.
“This farm has been in our family for more than 100 years,” said Jan Kochis, property owner and chair of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Board. “Virgil’s grandparents settled here. This may make it possible for the family farm to stay in the family another 100 years.”
When the Rush Creek project is completed and fired up this October, it will provide energy for approximately 325,000 homes in Colorado. While renewable energy is much needed in the state, Kochis said the installation of the turbines on their property — which is east of Simla and west of Limon — will provide much-needed income during a year of above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall, making it a tough year for growing crops.
“The new income that these turbines provide will create more certainty for our farming operations by helping balance against the roller-coaster commodity markets and unpredictable weather,” Kochis said during the June 28 event.
State Rep. Kimmi Lewis applauded landowners like the Kochises for their willingness to lease their land and drive economic development within the county.
”I’m honored to be on Virgil and Jan’s property today,” said Lewis. “This is true economic development, and I so much endorse that type of growth in rural areas. The day will come when we look out, like today, and see wind turbines. I applaud those landowners who are willing to do that.”
Elbert County Commissioner Grant Thayer said each turbine brings in about $4,000 annually in property tax, and provides an alternative to farming in rough years.
“It’s another income stream for agriculture people in Colorado,” said Thayer. ”We’ve had strong support, and the locals like it.”
Residents had concerns about the extensive amount of work that goes into erecting the turbines, including increased traffic and dust that comes from truck traffic on rural dirt roads.
Neighbor Tim Brown said he has held out leasing his farm for wind turbines, but he attended the June 28 tour of the farm, and spoke to the crowd that gathered.
“It’s all been pretty good,” Brown said. ”We got along really well as far as the construction and the extra traffic.”
Attendees were given a tour of the Kochis property, and got up close and personal with a turbine, which towers approximately 260 feet above the ground. Cattle grazed in the field below the turbines, and signs of crops growing in the surrounding field showed that land leased for turbines can still be used for grazing and growing.
Xcel project manager Gerry Kelly answered questions about the construction and working of the wind turbines.
“The towers are 80 meters tall, with three blades that measure about 54 meters each (about 177 feet),” said Kelly. ”The hub generates the electricity that is transmitted to a substation before being released into the Xcel Energy grid.”
Placement of the towers is an important factor when designing a wind farm. According to Kelly the towers are placed a quarter-mile apart, with about 1,000 to 1,200 yards necessary in front and behind each tower. The blades are electronically controlled, and can be manipulated to maximize the wind, as well as be turned off in the event of too much wind.
Kelly said it could take years of studying wind patterns before a site is deemed a good fit for a wind farm.
Kochis said she knew some people didn’t like the changing landscape that wind farms bring, but she doesn’t mind seeing the turbines outside her window.
“I enjoy every day looking out my kitchen window and seeing the majestic wind turbines through my trees,” Kochis said.