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I&M shifts wind farm plans out of Jay, Randolph counties

MUNCIE – In 2009, Indiana Michigan Power expressed confidence that it would build a wind farm in Randolph and Jay counties.

Now the company is confident that it won’t build a wind farm there.

Instead, I&M has entered an agreement with E.ON Climate and Renewables that will result in the construction of Wildcat-1, a new wind farm north of Elwood in Madison and Tipton counties.

The agreement calls for I&M to buy 100 megawatts of wind power from Wildkat-1, which is being built by E.ON.

“It’s simply economics,” said I&M spokesman David Mayne. “E.ON is able to sell us that power at a far better price than if we had built our own wind farm. E.ON brings a great deal of experience in building wind farms here and in Europe. They have extraordinary economies of scale that make the power available at a far better rate than we could. I&M customers will pay a lower price for that wind energy.”

The good news for wind energy advocates is that the wind farm proposed by I&M in Jay and Randolph counties could still be built, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual lease payments to farmers and other land owners, significant property tax revenue, hundreds of construction jobs and 10 to 20 permanent maintenance and operation jobs.

“While it’s true we no longer have an interest in developing that site, we have done a lot of testing there, and that is still an excellent place to develop a wind farm,” Mayne said. “We are actively working to find a developer for that site, but we will not have an ownership stake in it.”

The 200-megawatt Wildkat-1 wind farm initially will contain 100 to 130 wind turbines, depending on the size of the turbines, said spokesman Matt Tulis.

“I&M agreed to buy 100 megawatts, but the overall size of the wind farm is 200 megawatts,” he said. It’s possible that E.ON will add a second and third phase to Wildkat, expanding it to 400 megawatts that would include additional land in Grant and Howard counties.

In January, I&M issued a request for proposals for wind farms in its service territory that resulted in selection of the Wildkat project, which E.ON already was planning to build.

Construction of Wildkat-1 is scheduled to start later this year and to be completed by the end of 2012.

Indiana is one of the most coal-dependent states in the country when it comes to electricity generation.

In 2008, Horizon Wind Energy announced that it planned to build a 100-megawatt to 200-megawatt-wind farm within 60,000 acres south of Winchester, but that project has not yet come to fruition.

Each land owner of that project would receive $7,000 to $9,000 in lease payments annually for each turbine, or $350,000 to $900,000 in total annual lease payments to local property owners, depending on the number of turbines installed.

Indiana already has more than 800 wind turbines on wind farms in West Central Indiana.

In 2009, after collecting two years of wind resource data from meteorological test towers in Jay, Randolph and Wayne counties, I&M earmarked $150,000 for an interconnection study on hooking its proposed wind farm to the electrical power grid.

At the time, a company spokesman said, “Investing that kind of money tells you we are pretty confident there is adequate wind there.”