BURLEY – What goes up must come down.
As three wind farms west of Burley near completion, Cassia County officials are considering drafting an ordinance that would ensure any wind turbines that are abandoned or lose commercial viability will be decommissioned by their owners – not the county.
Idaho Wind Partners representative Rob Simalchik said his company is installing 13 turbines across the Burley Butte, eight turbines on the Golden Valley farm south of the butte and 34 near Milner Dam. The company is also installing 88 turbines on a farm near Hagerman, all part of a massive $500 million wind project backed by GE Energy Financial Services.
“The projects are flying along,” Simalchik said. “Most of the projects should be commercial by the end of the year.”
Kerry McMurray, Cassia County Planning and Zoning administrator, said Thursday during a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting that County Commissioner Paul Christensen asked P&Z to start drafting an ordinance to deal with the issue.
Most turbines are anywhere from 184 feet to 328 feet tall with 100-foot-long blades, and have a 15- to 20-year life span.
“There’s been talk going on with the construction about what to do when they are no longer in use,” McMurray said. “Who will take them down, whose responsibility is it. Obviously, we don’t want that to fall to the county. It would be pretty expensive to take one of those big things down.”
McMurray said that if such towers were abandoned due to a company’s bankruptcy, turbine removal would probably fall to the property owners. But it’s doubtful landowners would be in a financial position to take them down.
Wind companies are currently not required to have a bond in place that would offset site cleanup.
McMurray said the ordinance would deal primarily with wind-generation towers, but would also likely regulate the decommissioning of cellular phone towers and other large structures.
He said that counties in other states require that a company seeking a special-use permit must provide the county with an engineer-completed estimate of the cost of decommissioning the project.
However, County Prosecuting Attorney Al Barrus said special-use permits aren’t required for most wind projects in the county. McMurray said that’s why the ordinance language is needed, and that it should state that the law applies to any project decommissioned after the ordinance passes.
P&Z Commissioner Bruce Bowen said that in a case where a company goes bankrupt, a decommissioning estimate is irrelevant without a bond to back it up.
And due to the cost of bonds, most people are nt going to want to comply with bond requirements, said P&Z Commissioner Burke Garner.
“This commission often throws that word around,” said P&Z Commissioner Joyce Ward, who said she has personal experience with bonds. “And I just cringe because it’s harder than you think to get a bond.”
The P&Z will continue to discuss the draft ordinance in upcoming meetings.
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