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Abatement next step for Benton wind plan  

Orion Energy LLC is moving closer to getting its Benton County wind farm project off the ground.

The seven-member Benton County Council voted unanimously Thursday morning to approve a resolution that designates York and Richland townships as economic revitalization areas.

That action clears the way for the council to consider a 10-year tax abatement for Orion. The company is planning to place a maximum of 135 electricity-generating wind turbines on farmland in the two townships in the northwest part of the county.

The 135 turbines would be capable of producing approximately 200 megawatts of electricity yearly – generating enough power to serve at least 50,000 homes.

“It’s one step closer to the abatement,” said Turner Hunt, who leads Orion’s wind energy projects in the Midwest, following the vote on the economic revitalization areas.

The council expects to vote soon on the proposed tax abatement. If it is approved, Orion will, in return, provide some financial assistance to the county. The Oakland, Calif.-based company:

Would pay an estimated average tax of $4,132 for each megawatt of power produced annually.

Has pledged to pay the county $1 million over four years.

Is expected to create 120 to 150 construction job to erect the turbines and up to 12 full-time jobs when the devices are generating power.

“If we do nothing, we get nothing,” said county council president Leon Cyr.

But county commissioner Jim Hasser argued that the tax break for Orion will affect property owners throughout the county.

“All taxpayers are going to be subsidizing this tax abatement,” Hasser said. “We’re not resourcing what the abatement will be worth.”

The timetable to get turbines installed and operational is estimated by Orion officials at 52 to 60 weeks, which puts the company in a time sensitive mode on two fronts.

Orion has signed an agreement with Duke Energy Indiana, which will purchase up to 100 megawatts of wind-generated electricity from the Benton County turbines. The 20-year agreement stipulates that the alternative power be available by the end of 2007.

The company also qualifies for a federal wind energy credit program that is set to expire at the end of next year.

“The wind farm must be operational by the end of 2007,” Hunt said.

“If that doesn’t happen, it’s possible there would be no (federal) credit.”

By Max Showalter
mshowalter@journalandcourier.com

jconline.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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