Logan County wind farm construction delayed 2 years; County must find new avenue to cover trial costs
LINCOLN – The $1.5 million Logan County was expecting to collect this year in permit fees from the construction of a planned wind farm won’t materialize. Work on the wind farm has been delayed at least two years.
It’s frustrating news for the county. The permit fees from Sugar Creek Wind Farm One construction have been seen as the salve to cover painful trial costs for Christopher and Jason Harris, brothers accused to killing a Beason family in 2009.
Stan Komperda, project manager for Sugar Creek Wind Farm One, said Friday that declining electricity demand and the overall outlook of the economy have slowed the project’s progress.
“We are moving forward, but it is at a slower pace than what we had originally hoped for,” Komperda said. “Really, the economy is what’s driving it. If we have a quick economic turnaround, and unemployment goes down and the factories get up and running again, that’s a much higher power demand and that’s going to change things fast.”
The Logan County Board had expected to start seeing revenue from construction permit fees come trickling in this year, and construction to begin at the site next summer.
Komperda said that, as of now, construction isn’t expected to begin until sometime in 2014.
When asked what can be done to help offset the lost projected funds, Logan County Board finance chairman Chuck Ruben grinned optimistically and threw his arms out to his sides.
In the dark
“I don’t really know at this point,” he said. “We’re still looking into it.”
Ruben has said in the past that he hopes the county would be able to borrow money and repay the loan over an extended period of time, dulling the stress dealt to future budgets.
However, the legalities regarding the county seeking a loan haven’t been fully researched. The Logan County Board is awaiting a finding on the subject from the state’s attorney’s office.
Logan County received a positive audit report earlier this year, indicating the local economy was on the rebound. In fact, the county came out $615,000 ahead of projections in FY2011 budget. But major trial costs could erase that optimism in a blink.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s abolition of the death penalty last year led to the elimination of the capital litigation fund at the beginning of this year, a program to help counties pay for high-dollar murder trials.
The means the county must foot the bill for the Harris trials, set to move forward until then.
Legal fees paid
Meanwhile, the county has been writing monthly checks of $16,666.67 to Christopher Harris’ defense team alone, according to court documents. The total amount of both trials is expected to exceed $1 million.
Additionally, the wind farm’s delay means landowners expecting to earn monthly lease payments for hosting the 116 turbines also will have to wait.
“The thing I want to emphasize to our landowners now is that it looks bad, but these things really can turn around quickly,” Komperda said.
Also not helping Sugar Creek Wind Farm One is Congress’ waiver on the extension of the federal wind energy production tax credit (PTC), which would amount to a 30 percent reimbursement of the total construction bill.
“There’s a couple things out there that are kind of weighing the industry down right now,” Komperda said.
He added, however, that the reduction in coal use could be a positive for wind energy companies.
“We have some new regulations that have already closed some coal plants in Illinois and other coal plants in other states,” he said. “Over the next two or three years, those regulations are going to continue to shut down a lot of these dinosaur coal plants that are 50 or 60 years old. They can’t continue to meet pollution objectives.”
Still moving forward
Despite the two-year setback at Logan County’s Sugar Creek Wind Farm One, Komperda said planning is still moving forward, and the project is still hitting milestones.
Recently, his company completed a generator interconnection agreement with Ameren and Midwest Integrated System Operator to run wind farm electricity through local power lines.
In addition, Komperda plans to address the Logan County Board in the next month or two to request zoning permits for a switchyard that would heighten security for area electricity customers when the wind farm goes online.
“If an ice storm were to take down a bunch of power lines, the way it’s configured right now, the area of electrical loss would be much larger than what it would be when we hook up,” Komperda said. “The switchyard will make us be able to reroute power.”
Overall, Komperda said the project is still moving forward, just at a slower pace than expected.
And if the economy begins to turn around, Logan County’s financial boon could be back on track.
“The way we see it with our project, we are well positioned to take advantage of any kind of a turnaround that would happen, and to do that pretty quickly,” Komperda said.
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