MUSKEGON COUNTY – Based on early indications, the proposed $300 million Muskegon County wind-energy farm is receiving a favorable breeze from developers.
The county’s consultant, Howard & Howard, reported last week to the county’s public works board that the bid packages seeking a private firm are in the hands of about 60 developers, some received directly from the consultant and some requested by the developer. Rodger Kerschner, a partner with Howard & Howard, said some of the developers are associated with major turbine manufacturers, others are associated with major construction companies and a few are likely not qualified to handle the project.
“We are pretty confident at this point that we are going to see a number of proposals from competent developers,” Kerschner said during a special planning session of the public works board. “We think we have a pretty attractive project.”
County officials, through their consultant, officially began seeking project bid requests from developers about three weeks ago. The county plans to lease land on the 11,000-acre wastewater site in Egelston and Moorland townships to a private firm to construct and operate utility-scale wind turbines.
The developers’ final bids are expected by May 1. Howard & Howard would then review the bids, make recommendations to the board and pursue a contract with the board’s selection. A final contract between the county and developer is expected by the end of this year.
“We will have something for you pretty soon,” Kerschner said. “We’ll have some hard data in hand.”
County officials expect the project to produce two direct financial benefits – lease payments that would go into the wastewater fund and personal-property taxes that would go through the typical allocation formula to all taxing entities.
Based on the terms in the bid package, the county plans to receive financial contributions once a developer is selected.
The terms call for payments to be made to the county for the developer to have exclusive rights while project planning takes place. Kerschner said the plan is to have the developer pay an annual, per-acre fee to have the exclusive rights to build the wind farm on the wastewater site.
The terms also call for a certain percentage of the gross revenues from the wind farm to be paid to the county once the wind farm is built and the energy is being sold.
While the focus of the proposed project is construction of a 100-megawatt wind farm on the wastewater site, other side impacts have been mentioned throughout project discussions. Two of those – using local businesses in the project and expanding the wind farm to interested, nearby private landowners – are part of the bid package.
Kerschner said the term sheet lets developers know that special consideration will be given to bidders who plan to use local businesses and manufacturers and those that plan to seek lease agreements with private property owners near the wastewater site to erect additional turbines. As part of the push for local-business participation, the county is compiling a list of local companies wishing to be considered for the project to provide to the developers.
In addition to the terms and the special considerations, the developers’ final bids will be evaluated on the economics of their proposals and the likelihood that the developer could construct and get the power to market, Kerschner said.
County officials and their consultant consider the wastewater site an attractive site for a wind farm because it has adequate wind speed, wide-open land with lack of trees and buildings, one property owner and two sets of power lines that cross the property.
Some questions still remain about the proposed project that could affect the cost and the time it takes to become operational. Kerschner said the questions are: whether either set of power lines has capacity to handle the wind farm’s power; the pending results of a bird/wildlife impact study; and what impact other proposed wind farms could have.
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