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Wind farm in works near Solon

A Chicago-based company plans to establish Johnson County’s first commercial wind farm and one of the first in southeast Iowa by erecting 10 or more turbines over 3,000 acres near Solon.

PNE Wind USA is planning a 30-megawatt farm on private land leased in the townships of Cedar, New Port and Graham in the northeast portion of the county, said the company’s project developer, Keith Kurtz.

The company is eying 2013 as the construction date for the turbines, which typically stand 260 feet tall from the base to the center of the rotor with 100-foot blades, Kurtz said.

The number of turbines will be determined by the as-yet-to-be-studied wind potential for the area, Kurtz said. The towers can generate between 1.5 and 3.0 megawatts apiece, Kurtz said, which would peg the scope of the farm in the 10 to 20 turbine range.

While Iowa is flush with wind farms – ranking second nationally behind Texas in existing capacity by the American Wind Energy Association – the vast majority are located in western and central Iowa.

A map of Iowa’s wind farms compiled in March 2010 by Wind Today magazine shows no wind farms in east-central and southeast Iowa, though Kurtz said a few projects are in the early stages of development.

The Johnson County Board of Adjustment in November approved a permit allowing PNE to build a 198-foot meteorological tower this winter off 210th Street about a mile east of Highway 1 to study the area’s wind potential.

“It has decent wind resources and decent transmission availability,” Kurtz said of the Johnson County site. “You go out to western Iowa, and there’s a lot of transmission lines, but there’s so many projects you can’t put the power on the transmission. While in Eastern Iowa, the wind isn’t as great, but there’s not as many projects, therefore you can put the power on the transmission lines.”

Of Iowa’s 78 wind energy projects, a 30-megawatt farm would rank 33rd in terms of size, according to American Wind Energy Association data.

Kurtz said 9,000 homes are projected to be powered by the wind farm, with electricity being sold to a local utility company and transmitted via existing lines. No contract has been finalized with an energy company, he said.

Kurtz said his company reached an agreement with a land owner to lease space for the turbines, which he said would take up less than 1 percent of the land.

RJ Moore, assistant planning and zoning administrator for Johnson County, said the county does not have a specific ordinance addressing wind farms, but staff intends to look at whether the current process for such projects – going through the Board of Adjustment – is adequate to address the issues involved in erecting turbines.

Moore foresees the county being supportive of such projects, pointing to the land-use policies adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2008 that call for “alternative, non-carbon based energy generation.”

Moore said concerns such as sound waves and shadow flicker will also need to be scrutinized by the county, but if “we can be assured its negative impacts can be negated, I see Johnson County is a very liberal and progressive county, and we want to be sustainable.”

PNA Wind USA has developed more than 95 on-shore and off-shore wind farms across North America since it was founded in 1995.