IMAGE WIND TURBINES IN LAMAR, COLORADO
David Zalubowski  /  AP File
These wind turbines are among the 108 that stand on a wind farm near Lamar, Colo.
updated 6/20/2005 10:42:49 AM ET 2005-06-20T14:42:49

A Colorado town named Lamar isn't happy with a senator from Tennessee named Lamar.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., wrote a bill denying tax credits to some wind turbines and described wind power as contributing "puny amounts" of energy. That didn't go over well in Lamar, Colo., home of 108 wind turbines that crank out electricity for people in the state's metro areas 200 miles to the west.

So, the folks on the high Colorado plains have invited Lamar — the senator — to visit Lamar — the town.

"We don't have the Grand Canyon," Lamar Mayor Elwood Gillis said, conceding that the beauty of the Great Plains is sometimes overlooked. "But in a sense, the wind farm down south of Lamar has become our Grand Canyon."

Tourist attraction
The wind farm has become a bit of a tourist attraction for travelers who, weary of one broad expanse after another, crest a hill south of town for a view of a line of 375-foot-tall, pinwheel-like turbines curving off into the horizon. They stop in town to ask about it.

Alexander's spokeswoman, Alexia Poe, said his proposal, which has been revised and could be considered during the current debate on the energy bill, is intended to keep local governments informed of proposed wind energy projects.

"The senator is a strong, if not leading, advocate for state and local government," Poe said. "I would think Lamar is a great example of what the senator is trying to do."

A growing number of states, including Colorado, have laws requiring a certain amount of electricity come from renewable energy sources. The American Wind Energy Association, a national trade group, predicts this could be a record-breaking year for new projects.

In Lamar, the Colorado Green project, built by GE Wind and sold to a partnership between PPM Energy of Portland, Ore., and Shell WindEnergy Inc., started producing last year. (GE is a parent in the joint venture that owns MSNBC.)

New revenue source
Sales tax revenue increased during the farm's construction, easing the pain of more than five years of crop-killing drought.

Gillis said the wind farm, which may be expanded by 100 turbines, has boosted property tax revenue and inspired area farmers to band together to build their own 46-turbine operation. The town of 8,800 gets about 14 percent of its power from four wind turbines. Farmers and ranchers also supplement their income by leasing their land for turbines.

Alexander has said the large, industrial wind turbines could be a scenic blight. He's complained about the blades' noise and the tax breaks going to an energy source that "produces puny amounts of high-cost unreliable power."

In his letter to Alexander, Gillis said the seemingly incessant wind on the plains has been called many things, "but 'puny' is not one of them."

Although the blades are going 110 mph, Gillis said the noise amounts to "a kind of swish" that doesn't seem to bother the cattle grazing in the turbine's shadow.

Tax credits at issue
Alexander's bill originally would have required wind projects to get approval from local governments before receiving federal tax credits. That provision has been changed to require only notification. Turbines built within 20 miles of an existing or prospective UNESCO World Heritage site or opposed by neighboring states worried about the view couldn't qualify for tax credits.

Xcel Energy, the country's No. 2 provider of electricity from wind power, opposes Alexander's bill, utility spokesman Tom Henley said. "It would add a number of different layers to the siting process," Henley said.

He added that the production tax credits of 1.8 cents a kilowatt hour, set to expire at year's end, are essential for the developing industry.

The House version of the energy bill didn't extend the credits, but the Senate is considering such measures.

Poe of Alexander's office said while the senator has nothing against wind power, he believes other renewable energies, such as solar and biomass, aren't getting as much funding.

"Look at all the other subsidies the government pays out," Lamar Mayor Gillis said. "I absolutely cannot understand the basis of his concern."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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