By Max Showalter
FOWLER – No opposition to a wind farm project proposed for Benton County was expressed during a public meeting here Thursday night.
But some people would like to see Orion Energy LLC bring a little more cash to the table.
The Benton County Council held the meeting to take comments on a resolution that designates Richland and York townships as economic revitalization areas.
That step is necessary before the council can consider providing a 10-year tax abatement to the Oakland, Calif.-based company which is designing a wind farm that would place a maximum of 135 electricity-generating wind turbines on farm land in the two townships.
The county council will vote on the ERA designation during a meeting on Sept. 28.
“Approximately 50 landowners will be receiving benefits in lease payments that will total about $500,000. There is little or no expense to the county with this coming in,” said Carol Clark, executive director of the Benton County Local Economic Development Organization.
“This definitely is a dream come true for an economic development professional. Here’s a company that has come to us. They have been good corporate citizens. We really are not giving them anything. I feel this is a win-win situation.”
The wind farm will create an estimated 120 to 150 construction jobs to erect the turbines and up to 12 full-time jobs when the devices are generating power.
Along with receiving the tax abatement, Orion also has pledged to pay Benton County $1 million over a four-year period.
But county commissioner Mel Budreau would like to see the proposed tax abatement generate more money for the county.
He presented a chart that shows the county will receive an average tax of $4,132 for each megawatt of power produced per year, which is nearly two-thirds of the national average of $6,400.
“We need money bad, like everybody else,” Budreau said, following the meeting that drew a standing room only crowd of 50 people to the courthouse here. “If (Orion) wants that tax abatement – give us something in lieu of taxes. Maybe another $1 million over 10 years.”
County resident Tom Shellenberger agreed with Budreau.
“I think the county has granted them almost everything they’ve asked,” Shellenberger said. “If they’re going to get a tax abatement, let’s get it up to at least the national average.”
Along with financial incentives, time also is becoming a factor in the ERA and tax abatement consideration process.
Last month, Duke Energy Indiana entered into an agreement to buy up to 100 megawatts of wind-generated electricity from Orion’s Benton County project.
The agreement stipulates that power be available by the end of 2007. Turner Hunt, who leads Orion’s wind energy projects in the Midwest, said the timetable to get turbines up and running is 52 to 60 weeks.
“They want to get this thing moving,” said Benton County Council president Leon Cyr. “It’s imperative that we do the same.”
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