Wind farm decision up to county

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October 27, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Allen County planners voted unanimously Thursday evening to recommend county commissioners approve a special use permit so a wind farm may be constructed in northeast Allen County.
The field of 56 turbines, each 500 to 600 feet tall, would generate 200 megawatts of power, which would be transported both underground and overhead to a high-voltage transmission line owned by Kansas City Power and Light that runs along the use side of the county. EDP Renewables is in the process of identifying end-users.
Construction would start in mid-2018 and blades powering the turbines are expected to begin their wind-powered waltz in 2019.
EDP, which will have the wind farm constructed by a yet to be determined contractor, has two generating fields spinning in Coffey and Cloud counties. It also has other projects in development in Kansas, Rorik Peterson, associate director of development, told about 70 people attending the planning commission meeting.
EDP is master of 43 wind farms in North America with 2,700 turbines that produce 5,200 megawatts of electricity.
Peterson said today Kansas has 35 wind farms with 2,800 turbines generating 2,100 megawatts of power.
Of those attending the two-and-half-hour session a handful were EDP employees or associates, and a number were landowners who have negotiated leases to be a part of the wind farm.
Harry Lee, planning commission chairman, asked all those on a mission to oppose the wind farm to stand. Only Patti Boyd, who lives on a farm within the area, did. A couple of others said they had questions. As the meeting wore on three others arrived, who later railed against the project or asked contentious questions.
Peterson noted EDP began the process of establishing a wind farm here in 2014, and erected four towers to test wind current frequency and strength in 2015. EDP sought to obtain lease options on 20,000 acres, and has 15,000, which Peterson said was sufficient.
Stevee Kennard, project developer, pointed out where a 15-acre compound containing the farm’s construction and later service base would be near the intersection of 3600 Street and North Dakota Road.

EARLY questions had to do with erosion and dust control and whether EDP would deal with those issues, as well as repair damages to road during the construction phase.
A set of rules and regulations planners hashed out several months earlier dealt with those things. Peterson said EDP would ensure roads would be maintained, with Mitch Garner, director of Public Works, its counsel. Videos will be made of roads before use occurs, and then compared with post-construction condition.
Associates hired for special investigations told questioners the presence of eagles had been studied. Judgment was turbines would not interfere with the birds’ activities. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism also gave its blessing, allowing turbines would not harm any endangered species, or any other wildlife.
Impact of the turbine field on land values was a recurring concern.
Peterson said studies had demonstrated negligible impact and “in some cases they have had a positive impact.”
Those who lease land — about 900 parcels — will receive annual compensation, with turbine location a factor.
The aforementioned zoning requirements set out early by the planners and ratified by county commissioners establish buffers between individual turbines and residential properties, on leased and unleased land. Also, at its volition, EDP arranges compensation through neighbor agreements, “as a goodwill gesture,” Peterson said. “The setback requirements minimize effects of turbines.”
The neighbor agreements generally have to do with land adjacent to the wind farm boundaries. They also pertain to parcels within a wind farm’s boundaries. “We realize small home site owners had no option for a lease, so, they were included in the neighbor agreements,” Kennard said.

THE ISSUE of county compensation for a 10-year state-imposed property tax exemption surfaced.
“What is the county going to get out of this,” barked Jim Lewis, an exterior landowner and Iola businessman.
Peterson said EDP would start paying property tax bills in the range of $1 million a year  in year 11 of generation, and had no obligation to make a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) the first 10 years in Allen County.
In Coffey County’s first year a PILOT of $500,000 was made by EDP. But, Peterson cautioned, that is different: The wind farm in Coffey began generation under previous state law that provided lifetime property tax exemption.
Even so, Peterson said EDP had every intention of negotiating a PILOT with Allen; $200,000 a year was mentioned in a brief conversation with county commissioners several months ago. He also said the company would encourage Allen commissioners to make some of whatever EDP pays available to benefit the area where turbines would be, including Moran and USD 257.
Cloud County, for example, used money from its PILOT to establish pay-at-the-pump gasoline stations in rural areas that were far from commercial outlets.
Lewis also harangued EDP notables on other financial issues, including urging them to divulge revenue expectations from the wind farm. “That’s confidential information, as it would be with your business,” Lee told Lewis.
Later, an EDP spokesman did predict each turbine would cost $2 million to $3 million to construct and bring online.
Peterson said regulations limited turbines to emitting no more than 50 decibels of noise, or about what could be expected of a refrigerator while “you’re standing in the kitchen.” And, Kennard said, if there is a complaint, “let us know. We’ll follow up on it.”

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