MUSKEGON COUNTY – The wind-farm agreement that would allow for a private developer to research erecting large wind turbines on Muskegon County’s wastewater site remains unsigned.
The delay by the private development team in executing the lease agreement, which was approved by the Muskegon County Board of Public Works and Board of Commissioners 11 weeks ago, has sparked questions from some Public Works Board members. The subject was discussed briefly again Thursday at a Public Works Board meeting.
Wastewater Director Mark Eisenbarth outlined to the Public Works Board that two issues have led to the delay in gaining the signature from Gamesa Energy USA, an international leader in the wind-energy industry and leader of the county’s proposed development team. He said Gamesa is still working on an internal agreement with Scandia Wind Offshore for creating the new Muskegon Wind LLC, and Gamesa also is in the midst of developing a billion-dollar contract on a different wind farm project.
County Administrator Bonnie Hammersley said she talked with a Gamesa representative this week and “we’re being told it’s going to happen.
“We’ve been given all indications by Gamesa that the holiday season slowed them down,” Hammersley said. “They are not indicating any problems with the lease that would keep it from happening.”
The lease agreement, once signed, would give Muskegon Wind, led by Gamesa, exclusive rights to research and investigate the suitability for constructing a wind farm on the wastewater site in eastern Muskegon County. In exchange for exclusivity, the development team would pay thousands of dollars annually to the county.
County Commissioner John Snider, who serves on the Public Works Board, said the county needs to keep the pressure on to get the agreement signed.
“This is kind of silly,” Snider said. “We didn’t give the contract based on (the private-developer partnership). We gave it based on one, Gamesa.”
The Chronicle has been unable to reach Bill Smeaton, senior project developer for Gamesa Energy USA, for comment about the delay.
Gamesa Energy USA is a subsidiary of a Spanish wind-turbine manufacturer and wind-farm developer. The company currently has four wind farms, two manufacturing plants and five offices in the United States.
More specifics about the developer’s plans for the site are expected to be made public after the lease is signed. Based on the county’s working concept in discussion for years, a 100-megawatt, $300 million wind farm would be built if the project is deemed feasible based on wind speeds being researched.
County officials have cited several expected benefits to the community, including: lease payments for the wastewater fund; personal-property taxes that would go through the typical allocation formula to all taxing entities; generating work in the industry for some local businesses; and possible expansion of the wind farm to interested, nearby property owners. Some concerns have been raised about the potential loss of the personal-property taxes if the state eliminates them.
Once signed, the development term of the lease allows for completion of the necessary studies, including environmental, and pursuit of a long-term contract to sell the generated power. The first two years’ payments, more than $100,000, must be paid to the county in advance and are nonrefundable, according to the agreement.