Dec 142010
 
Authors: Allison Sylte

The CSU Research Foundation has lost yet another contractor on the Maxwell Ranch wind farm project.

Cannon Power Group backed out of its contract, signed in June, to develop the 11,000-acre property near the Wyoming border left to the university by prominent area rancher Fred Maxwell in 1945 for research purposes. The wind farm would take up 8,000 acres.

Cannon said the land wasn’t “commercially attractive” and not financially viable for development. Its first payment to the university was due by the end of the year.

“We appreciate the fact that Cannon was open throughout this process, and we think they did a good job in terms of their due diligence. We understand this is a business decision,” said CSU Vice President of Research Bill Farland in a written statement. “CSU and CSURF will work with Cannon to make some critical decisions over the next nine months regarding project timing and funding.”

As part of former CSU President Larry Penley’s goal to shape CSU into a “green” university, Maxwell Ranch was leased to alternative energy company Wind Holding in 2007 to develop wind energy. The intention being that energy created there would eventually be used to power the main campus. The overall bill was estimated to be between $400 and $500 million.

Penley’s decision to use the ranch to establish CSU on the green map was fraught with controversy from the beginning. Local groups contested the motives of this decision, arguing that the project emphasized generating revenue for the university more so than respecting Fred Maxwell’s will, which left the property mainly for agricultural research.

“We would love to see the land used for environmental research or to find information about weeds and pine beetles,” said Nina Jackson, the interim-president of the Great Red Mountain Preservation Association, a local environmental group that has contested the project on Maxwell Ranch. “As has been demonstrated before, Maxwell Ranch was just not meant to be a wind farm.”

Wind Holdings worked with the university for two years but was unable to secure the necessary permits to develop on the land, causing the company to lose its contract with CSU.

Earlier this year, Cannon Power Group was selected to continue investigating how to develop the land for alternative energy generation, but it too was unable to find the means to make the project feasible.

Power generated by the proposed 50 to 60 wind turbines would have been transferred to an energy substation 30 miles away in Ault, where it would have been converted into the energy used to power the university.

“The problem with this power transfer is that it’s simply not feasible to transfer the energy 30 miles away for the sake converting it,” Jackson said. “As has been proven before, it’s not cost efficient or financially worthwhile.”

Eric Sutherland, a Fort Collins resident and green energy activist, said in an e-mail to the CSU Office of Public Relations that the school should consider educating its students about the “financial, regulatory, technical and environmental” aspects of the utility industry.

“Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the electric utilities industry would have known that (the Maxwell Ranch project) wouldn’t be feasible years ago,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland told the Collegian in a phone interview that the Maxwell Ranch topic is “frustrating” because it began as a “dream with no discussion of how it would become a reality.”

Penley’s goal was for the university to achieve energy independence by 2020, and, despite these setbacks, university officials say that development on this property will continue to be explored.

“Right now, we just need to go back to the drawing board and continue to explore how to put this project in motion,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda.

Senior reporter Allison Sylte can be reached at news@collegian.com

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