Fayette County could see wind turbines dotting its skyline in the next five years.
An informational meeting for landowners in the Smithfield, Harlan, Putnam and Fairfield townships was held Wednesday night at Starmont High School. The meeting focused on creating a wind energy project in the area.
A Chicago company has shown interest in putting wind turbines in the southern part of the county. Since this was the first time many of the landowners had been approached about the possibility of having a wind farm, one group of landowners has spent the past year collecting data which they shared with their neighbors at last week’s meeting.
“I always thought, ‘this is northeast Iowa, we don’t have enough wind here’,” said Tim Burrack. “Most of us didn’t know (of the corridor’s viability) until we were approached by this company.”
The group, including Tim Burrack, David Burrack and Tim Recker, all of Arlington, told the crowd they weren’t discouraging anyone from signing with the Chicago company but wanted their neighbors to be aware of all options. Nearly a half dozen landowners admitted to signing lease agreements with the company so far.
“This is a big decision and we’ll have to live with it for the next 25 to 35 years,” said David Burrack. “We want to make sure we make the right decision.”
Tim Burrack and Tim Recker said they had been doing their own investigating into the wind industry over the past year. Through their research they met several people who they believe could offer Fayette County the best plan for starting a wind project.
“All of us had no knowledge of this industry when we started,” said Tim Burrack. “Wind is a resource overhead and who would have dreamed there was so much value in it?”
The men visited three different wind farms in Midwest. Burrack said before landowners get involved with a project it is important to know the potential and the benefits of wind. He said they also need to know the rights they have and the rights they give away once they sign a lease.
“I feel a wind project in this area is beneficial to us all but there are different ways of doing business.”
“We are not trying to discourage wind energy in the area,” said Recker. “We want this to work with whatever company comes along but we have to do what’s best for the landowners of Fayette County.”
Recker said in their investigation they believe the scenario that would work best is one described at the meeting, by Earl Cummings, founder of TurningPoint Management of Mankato, Minn.
Cummings suggested landowners in the wind footprint (the area designated to have a wind farms potential) join together to start a cooperative landowner limited liability corporation.
In Cummings’ scenario, the LLC would have a three to four person board of governors. To join the LLC, a person must be a landowner in the wind footprint, to keep outsiders from buying into the company. Members would option their land to the LLC instead of the developer. He said the LLC could negotiate with the developers on behalf of the members.
Cummings doesn’t foresee Fayette County implementing a wind project in the immediate future of three to five years.
The first step is to determine if the power generated from the turbines could be transmitted to the buyer (power company). A contract agreement would be necessary with a Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator or MISO. MISO connects the energy to a grid which is how the wind farmers will receive their revenue.
“You can have all the resources you want but if you don’t have a way to transmit it then what’s the point,” said Cummings.
The second step is to determine the wind resource. It takes average wind speeds of 15 to 17 mph to make a wind project worthwhile.
“People think that wind is a great answer. It’s okay but it’s not the greatest. The problem with wind is it blows the least when you need power the most,” he said. Wind speeds drop dramatically during June, July, August which are peak usage months.
Step three is to gain participation from landowners. Cummings said it’s difficult to get turbines in place if all the neighbors don’t participate. The fourth step is to find a developer and financing source. The LLC would need to obtain the necessary permits, gain local support, market to potential buyers and obtain interconnection and transmission agreements.
Cummings said the benefit to landowners in buying into the LLC would be that they would not be signing away their wind rights without receiving the benefits. The traditional method of leasing land to an outside company requires the landowners to give up their right to use the land for wind energy for an average of 25 years, even if a turbine never goes up.
Cummings’ final suggestion to the group was to begin pursuing the project. He said they should start the LLC this year and put up towers as soon as possible to start measuring wind speed.
Each person in attendance was asked to fill out a survey to measure the interest in developing a wind project in the area.
By: Meghan Powers, News writer
Newspapers of Fayette County
16 April 2008
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