STERLING – The Logan County Planning Commission had just enough members present to conduct business at their meeting on Tuesday. A quorum made up of Jerry Wernsman, Tom Kiel, Brett Locke and Bill Wright took action on several items, including recommending the commissioners approve a new wind farm.
NECO Wind, LLC requested a conditional use permit for the operation of a 30 megawatt wind energy production facility, consisting of approximately 18 wind turbines, access roads, underground electrical collection cables, operations and maintenance facility and ancillary facilities.
Location of the property is sections 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 Township 7 N, Range 48 W of the 6th PM, in Logan County. The 9,000 acre site straddles the Logan and Phillips County line.
“This is really kind a unique opportunity for Phillips County and Logan County to work together,” said Planning Coordinator Kris Pennington.
She explained that the interconnect, substation connection, transmission line, and the operations and maintenance facility will all be in Phillips County; Logan County’s portion will just have some turbines placed in it.
Pennington noted the Phillips County Board of Adjustment didn’t give a recommendation for the request at their meeting on Monday. The request will go before the Phillips County Commissioners on Friday, with their recommendation.
The project began in 2009, through local initiative investment and support. In 2010, the project in partnership with Phillips County applied for a grant through the Department of Energy. Phillips County was awarded a $2.55 million grant to offset development and construction costs. Due to the grant, an additional federal review was required, which took two years. It culminated in a finding of no significant impact, in January 2012.
Will Cooksey, project developer/project counsel with National Wind, LLC, the project manager of NECO Wind, LLC, said they plan to initiate construction, qualify for the production tax credit and achieve commercial operation in 2014.
The company has completed federal, aviation, cultural and wildlife studies, with no significant findings.
Sites for 18 turbines and five alternate sites were submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval, due to the location of Haxtun Airport. Of the potential 23 turbines, up to 13 would be located in Logan County, with 10 in Phillips County.
Cooksey said they’re looking at GE 1.6MW turbines, with a hub height of 80 meters and a rotor diameter of up to 100 meters.
After hearing issues about the placement of turbines for another project at last month’s meeting, the commission wanted to know how close the closest tower is to a residence. Pointing out that they complied with all county setback requirements, Cooksey said the closest turbine is approximately 1,625 feet.
The commission also asked about a power purchase agreement. To date the company doesn’t have an agreement in hand.
“We are involved in bilateral discussions with several interested off-takers,” Cooksey said. “Without a power purchase agreement or some other enforceable, financeable sales mechanism, we will not be in a position to construct the wind farm.”
“I would hope that within the next several months that I have a real concrete direction on that.”
Joe Jennings, director of communications with National Wind, LLC, noted that wind energy went into a quiet period for awhile, but now “the wind industry has picked up; utilities are now looking for wind power or renewable power.”
“Right now, we think we’re entering a more active time. We’re going to engage the community more,” he said. “We want to be here and meet with people, get them ready for what’s going to happen pre-construction and construction.”
A landowner, Dan Anderson, expressed concern about communication.
“Communications up to this point, in the last almost four years, have been poor,” he said. “It seems like we are contacted when something is needed, rather than having continual contact.”
Cooksey noted the company does send out newsletters with contact information, and they will continue to do that.
“I welcome and invite the opportunity to rekindle conversations and relationships with National Wind and with the NECO Wind project.”
Anderson also mentioned that landowners are dealing with continued late lease payments. Payments were due Feb. 15; as of April 16, they haven’t been sent out.
“National Wind is, money is tight currently,” Cooksey explained. “But we feel like there’s a real opportunity given the upsurge in power purchase, or IRPs, and power purchase agreement opportunities with local utilities. We’re very excited about this project and we are looking to make those landowner payments in the very near future.”
“Lease payments is between the company and those who are landowners; I don’t know how deeply involved we want to get in that,” Pennington told the commission.
Anderson wanted to know what assurances landowners, as well as Logan and Phillips County have, “in the ability to move this project forward, and make sure that everybody is taken care of in the mean time?”
“To my knowledge, when wind farms enter into power purchase agreements with utilities there’s a certain income stream that’s given to the wind farm and to my knowledge, no wind farm has declared bankruptcy under those conditions,” Cookley answered.
In other business, the board recommended approval of a special use permit application submitted by 326, LLC, dba Mike’s Meat Market, for operation of a USDA packing plant located at 18501 County Road 27, in Sterling.
The request was tabled at the commission’s meeting last month, to ask for advice from the county attorney, after a question came up involving litigation with a prior landowner.
County Attorney Alan Barton reviewed the minutes of the meeting and the application.
“In my opinion, the litigation controversy, its potential outcome and associated innuendo, is not relevant to the permit application,” he said in a letter to the board. “Consideration of the grant or denial of the permit should proceed solely on the basis of the usual land use criteria.”
The commission also recommended approval of a subdivision exemption application, submitted by Judy Long. She is requesting to create a 2.64-acre exemption parcel from a 160-acre parcel, in an agriculture zoned district, located at 18295 County Road 36.7.