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Xcel Energy opens huge, billion-dollar wind farm on Colorado’s Eastern Plains

With a plan to get the majority of its power from renewable energy by 2026, Xcel Energy Colorado on Tuesday celebrated the completion of one of the projects that will help realize that goal — a 300-turbine wind farm that sprawls across five counties on the Eastern Plains.

The 600-megawatt Rush Creek Wind Project covers nearly 100,000 acres in five counties: Lincoln, Arapahoe, Elbert, Kit Carson and Cheyenne. It is the largest wind farm in the state and the first large-scale wind farm owned and operated by the utility. Rush Creek was built with all made-in-Colorado turbines, produced in Vestas plants in Brighton, Pueblo and Windsor.

“It’s a billion-dollar investment. It’s a huge investment for us,” said Kent Larson, Xcel Energy’s executive vice president. “There’s enough wind in these wind turbines that it will serve over 300,000 homes.”

Larson, speaking at a site near Limon and to a crowd of  Xcel Energy employees, state and local elected officials, construction workers and area residents, said the electricity generated by Rush Creek will cost three cents per kilowatt hour, which should save customers money. He said the wind-fueled power will also eliminate about 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually that would otherwise be produced.

The local benefits are huge, too, Larson said. Landowners and the counties will reap $180 million in lease payments and property taxes during the project’s 25-year life.

Elbert County has already benefited financially, according to two county commissioners at the event, held in a building near a power substation and amid the towering turbines. Commissioner Grant Thayer said the county received $4.2 million in permit and impact fees from the project. He said the county will put the one-time windfall into a rainy-day account.

The Rush Creek project builds on Elbert County’s goal of attracting more renewable energy projects. Commissioner Chris Richardson said one company plans to build a solar farm in the county and a wind-energy company has installed towers to test the area’s wind.

And, importantly, said Thayer, ranchers are getting paid to lease their land for the turbines.

“It’s going to allow many of the multi-generation ranchers in this part of the county to survive,” Thayer said.

In August, Xcel Energy got the go-ahead from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to pursue its Colorado Energy Plan. The company, Colorado’s largest electric utility, says the plan will cut carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 60 percent, increase its renewable energy sources to 55 percent of its mix by 2026 and save customers about $213 million.

Xcel Energy is among the nation’s leading utilities in terms of adding to its renewable energy portfolio, said Tom Darin, Western state policy director for the American Wind Energy Association.

The company is responding to growing consumer demand for cleaner and cheaper energy, he said.

“We’re not really seeing much federal leadership on energy strategy,” Darin said. “The specifics are coming from the states.”

Larson of Xcel Energy said the utility, which operates in eight Western and Midwestern states, plans to have 10,000 megawatts of wind-generated power by 2021. The company currently has 6,674 megawatts of wind power across its system. That doesn’t include Rush Creek.

The new wind farm has been generating some electricity the past several months and will begin commercial operations Oct. 31. Construction began in early April 2017. The last turbine was installed early this month. There were about 350 workers at peak construction.

Denver extends heat wave record for September with ninth consecutive 90-degree day

Denver’s hot weather keeps on sizzling, extending a record on Tuesday for consecutive 90-degree days in September.

The high temperature in Denver hit 91 degrees Tuesday afternoon, making it the ninth day in a row at 90 or above, extending the consecutive-day record for the month, according to the National Weather Service.

Denver has sweated through nine 90-degree September days four times in its history: 1895, 2005, 2017 and 2018.

The city was close to breaking another heat record on Tuesday. The record-high temperature on Sept. 18 in the city is 93 degrees set in 1895. Denver on Tuesday got as high as 91 degrees at 1:42 p.m., the weather service said.

“I don’t think we’ll get to it today because of the cloud cover,” said weather service meteorologist Kyle Fredin of the daily high-temperature record.

Still, Denver’s heat wave this month has been impressive.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Fredin said, noting that Denver’s high temperatures this time of year are typically in the upper-70s.

The city’s hot streak, however, is nearly exhausted. Denver’s high temperature on Wednesday is expected to top out at 87 degrees. Thursday and Friday should be even cooler in the city.

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Trump rolls back pollution rules on methane emissions for U.S. drillers

BILLINGS, Mont. — The Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era rule meant to curb climate-changing pollution on Tuesday, easing restrictions on energy companies that allow huge volumes of natural gas to escape after drilling it from U.S. lands.

The move rescinds much of a 2016 rule adopted under President Barack Obama that forced energy companies to capture methane, a key contributor to climate change. The replacement rule from the Interior Department does not have the same mandates for companies to reduce gas pollution.

It comes a week after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed weakening a similar rule for emissions from public and private lands.

“We’re for clean air and water, but at the same time, we’re for reasonable regulations,” Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told reporters.

Bernhardt and other Interior officials were unable to say how much the new rule would reduce methane emissions. The prior regulation would have cut emissions by up to 180,000 tons a year.

The replacement rule would eliminate almost all of an estimated $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion in costs over 10 years that companies faced to comply with the Obama-era regulation.

Methane is a component of natural gas that’s frequently wasted through leaks or intentional releases during drilling operations. The gas is considered a more potent contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide, although it occurs in smaller volumes.

An estimated $330 million a year in methane is wasted on federal lands, enough to power about 5 million homes a year.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico criticized the rollback as a “giveaway to irresponsible polluters.”

The Obama rule had been tied up in the courts ever since its adoption. It was put on hold in April by a federal judge in Wyoming.

Energy companies said it was overly intrusive and that companies have an economic incentive to capture the methane so they can sell it. That’s not always practical in fast-growing oil and gas fields, where large volumes of gas are burned off using flares.

Flaring has been a common practice in states including Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and New Mexico.

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