Despite an incentive agreement that references it, Mars Chocolate North America won’t construct a wind turbine for its Topeka site.
That is because having a wind turbine on the Kanza Fire Commerce Park would interfere with the airspace of nearby Forbes Field.
“Any object constructed in Kanza Fire does interfere with approaches and departures,” said Eric Johnson, president of the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority. “It would severely limit the use of Forbes Field in general.”
Mars initially wanted a 400-foot-high turbine, he said. But even a 300-foot-tall turbine would have been a hazard to airspace and would affect use of all four of the airport’s runways, Johnson said.
That conclusion was handed down to Mars by the Federal Aviation Administration, Johnson said. Should Mars try to continue forward with any plans that would be a hazard to the airport, the MTAA would contest it with FAA backing, he said.
However, he said, to his knowledge, Mars has pulled its plan for a wind turbine and is looking for other forms of renewable energy.
Mars confirmed that information – adding that it is pursuing solar energy instead.
“We are not using wind turbines at our new site in Topeka,” Leslie Veneziano, corporate affairs assistant manager for Mars, wrote in an email Thursday. “We could not get approval from the FAA to install wind turbines on our property or within several miles of our property due to the proximity of Forbes Field.”
Mars hopes to know whether a solar field is viable within the next several months, Veneziano said. She said Mars is pursuing LEED Gold Certification for the facility.
Not building a turbine goes against an incentive agreement between Mars and Go Topeka. The agreement, which describes itself as a “legally enforceable contract,” directs Mars to build a renewable wind energy facility either on or close to the site.
However, as long as Mars invests at least $270 million in the manufacturing plant, the agreement and its terms, which include up to $2.55 million in employment incentives, remain intact, according to Go Topeka.
Shawnee County counselor Rich Eckert concurred.
The incentive agreement – the same one that obligates Go Topeka to try to rezone area surrounding the plant – also establishes an “employee incentive fee.”
Go Topeka will pay Mars $6,000 for every new full-time position created – and maintained for 10 years – by the plant. The fee is limited to 425 positions and $2.55 million – all of which is to be used for construction and the purchase of machinery and equipment for the plant and its renewable wind energy facility.
Mars still can collect the entirety of that money without a turbine as long as the number of employees is maintained and at least $270 million is invested in the plant. Go Topeka “fully expects” the total cost of the facility to exceed that, according to a statement in an email Thursday.
The employment fee can go toward the installation of solar panels, said Marsha Sheahan, vice president of public relations for the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. Go Topeka is the economic arm of the chamber.
The employment provision is standard among Go Topeka’s incentive agreements, she said, and is based on a formula that takes salary and benefits into consideration.
However, the clause in the Mars agreement doesn’t specifically require the hires to be local.
“We believe that the vast majority of hires will certainly be local, but as Mars will also require some specialized skill sets it was important that they have the ability to recruit these positions as needed,” Doug Kinsinger, president and CEO of Go Topeka and the chamber, said in an email Thursday. “These employees become new citizens to our community and also help us grow and diversify the skill sets available in the community.”
The 18-page incentive agreement also obligates Go Topeka to transfer 40 acres of land to Mars by Feb. 15, 2013, if Mars requests land for the wind energy facility by Dec. 31 of this year.
If the land isn’t contiguous with the Mars plant, Go Topeka has to provide an access easement to the turbine.
Should Mars receive the additional property for the wind facility and not construct it, the company either has to deed the property back to Go Topeka or reimburse the organization.
However, that provision hasn’t yet been an issue.
“Mars has not expressed need for additional land at this point, and Go Topeka has not transferred any property to Mars for the wind turbines,” Kinsinger said.
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