MONMOUTH – By a 9-5 vote the Warren County Board approved a revised lease with Monarch Wind Power LLC for the delayed wind farm project planned for land between Monmouth and Roseville.
Earlier, by a unanimous vote of all present board members, 10 revisions to the lease were approved.
Monarch president and CEO Robert Gay said the changes were needed.
“It was a good idea to update the lease. There were changes in the the laws of the state of Illinois about the Freedom of Information Act and turbine tax that were good to get in there.”
While the changes to the lease document were approved with minimal discussion – mainly clarifications of legal terms by State’s Attorney Chip Algren – the approval of the lease itself was a point of contention.
Board member Brett Stahl expressed his concern over what he deemed a lack of protections for tenant farmers in the lease.
“The contract should protect all parties. I don’t see that,” he said.
He also said the county was not protected should Monarch decide to change equipment on one of the towers and damage crops or farm land in the process. Stahl said should Monarch shut down, the county’s farm land where towers were placed – which he said were worth $8,500 – would lose most of their value. Stahl also said the special use permit language should be a part of the lease.
He said information from Algren, the lease and Monarch were not relevant because they were based on an agreement originating four years ago when the process began.
The fact that Monarch has not broken ground was of considerable concern to Stahl and board members Hawk, Johnson and Jenks.
“Can we rely on Monarch to actually build,” Hawk said.
He said Monarch had approached the board in 2007 with a proposal for three towers and no mention of grant funding. Now the plan is for 12 or 13 towers with grant funding.
“Why didn’t (they) build the three?” Hawk said, to which Johnson added, “to show good faith.”
Gay said projects across the state and country have ground to a halt. He cited regulation as a hurdle as well as Illinois’ budget crisis.
“(Most) projects in the state of Illinois have ground to a snail’s pace for a myriad of reasons,” Gay said. “The wheels of government turn slowly. In Illinois they (the government) don’t know what contracts to execute first.”
Still, Gay said he hoped most of the hurdles would be cleared in 60 days.
Hawk said he was concerned about Monarch eventually building the towers while planning to sell them all along. He said he was concerned about rumors of a “Monarch II” facility “just to the west of us.”
Gay said he has been working to clear up that misconception for some time. Early documentation split up the Warren County plan into two seperate projects, one of seven towers the other of five, but both referring to the same wind farm currently in the works.
“Right now we have no plans (for a project to the west of Monmouth),” Gay said.
Hawk said the county should explore working with other wind farm companies.
Considerable criticism was levied on Gay.
“Dr. Gay has not carried through on his commitment to us in 2007,” Hawk said.
With Gay not present to respond, his absence was noticed.
“He has failed to be here,” Jenks said. “I have never been involved in a lease agreement when both parties were not present.”
Jenks referenced an article from North American Wind Power magazine’s December 2010 issue in which Gay co-authored an article entitled “Can My Midsize Wind Project Get Financing.” The article features passages relating to tax credits and the necessity for “appropriate tax incentives” to successfully fund a mid-sized wind farm. Jenks said that was evidence Gay knows all about tax credits and incentives and how to pass them on to a future buyer.
“(He) doesn’t care at all about property rights,” Jenks said. “That is very evident.”
When asked, Algren said any damage to property or crops is covered under the special use permits that were laid out and presented to the board for approval.
“They are required to pay damages,” Algren said.
There was a brief give and take between Jenks and Algren over background information. Algren said the information in question was readily available for any board member to look up and he was not asked to bring numbers to the board.
“Apparently this issue was brought up in December and no one chose to look into it,” Algren said.
After the meeting Jenks said he should have done more research.
The discussion was punctuated by an exchange between Johnson and board member Sean Cavanaugh.
“It seems to me this is a work in progress,” Johnson said.
Cavanaugh replied, “This could be a work in progress until the end of time unless we take action on it.”
Their back and forth continued with Johnson stating Gay had breached his contract by not moving dirt and the original four-year time span for the project was quickly running out.
“It is fast approaching unless we act today,” Cavanaugh said after stating issues,
clarifications, etc. could be brought forward to delay the project forever.
Board member Michael Pearson said grant financing was “always in flux and takes time, especially in these times with government dollars.”
The project has decreased from 13 to 12 towers. Gay said it had to do with technical issues resulting from voluntarily executing a 1,500 foot setback.
“Two of the towers became too close to each other,” Gay said.
However, working with General Electric and Monmouth College professor Patrick Fasano on the design of the turbines it was discovered that by raising them 20 meters – to 100 meters – which is still within the agreements with the county, efficiency increases would make up for the loss of the 13th tower. The 100 meter height is the standard European dimension.
Gay said the discovery of better air flow at the higher altitude has been noticed by projects throughout the region who are considering such a change themselves.
Hawk, Jenks, Johnson, Janet Schreck and Brett Stahl voted against the measure. William M. Thompson and Todd Winkler were not present.
“We are trying to protect the rights of Warren County citizens,” Jenks said after the meeting. “I am concerned. I hope for the best for the citizens of Warren County.”
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