EARL PARK – Plans for a wind energy project in this part of Benton County have been scaled back somewhat, and are being handled by a new company.
But spinning steel turbines should soon be dotting farmlands in Richland and York townships, using the wind to generate electricity.
“Everything in terms of permits is in place. All of that is done,” said Turner Hunt, project manager for Orion Energy Group, which is developing the wind energy project. “We’re right now to the point of bringing on general contractors and sub-contractors. We’re talking about making it a reality.”
Hunt said that construction will start this year on the first phase, which will include 67 towers. It is unclear how many will be built in the second phase.
Original plans called for a maximum of 135 turbines to be placed in the two townships with the capability of producing about 200 megawatts of electricity annually – generating enough power to serve at least 50,000 homes.
More than 100 construction jobs will be created to erect the turbines, and up to 12 full-time employees will be required when the devices are generating power.
Each turbine will require about one-third of an acre and land owners are expected to receive lease payments between $5,000 and $10,000 per year.
Details haven’t been finalized, but Bob Suiter Jr., who owns 800 acres between Earl Park and Raub, anticipates three turbines will be placed on his property.
“They’ve staked everything and are going to take core samples this month. Once that is done and they get their reports back they’ll know what they have to do for each site,” said Suiter. “I’m all for clean energy and looking for other ways to get more self-sufficient.”
Last year, the Benton County Council approved a resolution that designates York and Richland townships as economic revitalization areas.
That cleared the way for the council to grant a 10-year tax abatement for the alternative energy development company, which agreed to pay the county $1 million over four years.
“I think there will be a lot of economic benefits,” said Joann Wealing, president of the Benton County Local Economic Development Organization. “There will be payments to landowners, contracts while the wind farms are being constructed and jobs associated with it, as well.
“Benton County is a very rural county. It has a population of around 9,000 people. It would seem to be an ideal positioning for wind farms. They’re compatible with agriculture.”
Originally, the ERA designation and tax abatements were being sought by Orion Energy LLC, on Oakland, Calif.-based firm that was purchased in late December by BP Alternative Energy of Houston.
Shortly after the acquisition, BP announced plans to construct five wind projects in the United States this year – two in Texas and one each in California, Colorado and North Dakota.
The acquisition will give BP Alternative Energy a wind power portfolio of nearly 100 projects with the capacity to generate about 15,000 megawatts.
But three Orion Energy LLC projects were not included in the deal.
The wind farm in northwestern Benton County and similar projects in Texas and Illinois are now being developed by Orion Energy Group, the successor to Orion Energy LLC.
Last August, Duke Energy Indiana signed an agreement to purchase up to 100 megawatts of wind-generated electricity from the Richland and York township turbines annually.
The 20-year agreement stipulates that the alternative power be available by the end of this year.
Duke Energy spokeswoman Angeline Protogere said the utility company is still expecting to begin purchasing power this year.
“If everything goes the way it’s planned it will all be very positive,” Suiter said. “It’s going to generate tax income for the county, which we desperately need, and it should improve the county’s financial situation quite a bit.”
By Max Showalter
24 March 2007
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