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Wind talk continues to blow into Oberlin; meeting Thursday

The Oberlin City Council will be looking at a new power agreement when it meets Thursday.

How much difference it will make is anybody’s guess.

The new contract submitted by Sunflower Wind, based in Goodland, has since been forwarded along to the consultant hired by Oberlin, Joe Herz, based in Burr Oak.

His report could come as early as Thursday, when the council meets in regular session. That meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

“It’s sort of in limbo,” City Administrator Gary Shike said of the contract.

Sunflower Wind is something of a startup company that hopes to build a wind farm in Decatur County, as well as constructing methane and hydrogen generators on an experimental basis.

The company has targeted Oberlin as critical to its operations and has asked for the city to sign a contract for delivery of power.

Oberlin currently gets its power from Sunflower Electric, based in Hays, and from the federal Western Area Power Administration, which produces hydroelectric power.

What has troubled Oberlin about the Sunflower Wind contract has been its insistence of a right of first refusal clause in the contract.

In the latest revision, it’s no longer called that.

But Sunflower Wind still would have the opportunity to match prices if anyone offers a lower price.

“They have taken it out, in those words,” Shike said. “But in my opinion it’s still kind of there.”

Rather than calling it a right of first refusal, it’s now called “reverse bidding process.”

“It wasn’t hugely different,” Shike said of the new contract.

But Shike also admits he hasn’t taken the time to review it closely. That will be a job for Herz, the power consultant hired by the city.

“It’s in his lap right now,” Shike said of the consultant.

Sunflower Wind has been pushing hard for quick acceptance of the contract.

Shike, however, said such things don’t generally move that fast.

“Nothing happens immediately in municipal government,” he said, “at least not in ours.”

It’s also hard to turn its back on the hydroelectric power Oberlin is buying.

Oberlin has about 17 years left on a contract for that power, provided at about 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

“That is cheap,” he said.

The rest of the city’s power comes from Sunflower Electric, which charges about 9 cents. Together, Oberlin is buying power for about 5.6 cents per kilowatt hour.

Sunflower Wind is offering to sell power at about 9 cents a kilowatt hour, subject to contract discussion if other bidders are lower.

So far, Oberlin is the only municipality Sunflower is dealing with. St. Francis already has rejected a similar proposal.

By Mike Corn

Hays Daily News

3 December 2007