June 8, 2013

I&M to announce wind farm deal soon

Written by Seth Slabaugh | The Star Press | June 7, 2013 | www.thestarpress.com

MUNCIE – Randolph County is in the running, but not Delaware County, for a wind farm or wind farms that would sell electricity to Indiana Michigan Power.

I&M is expected to announce a decision as early as next week.

The utility in February issued a request for proposals to buy up to 200 megawatts of wind energy for use by its customers. The request sought proposals from eligible projects and bidders for a 20-year power purchase agreement. To be eligible, construction of the new wind project(s) must start during 2013 and be operational by the end of 2014.

While Delaware County this week put the brakes on a proposed wind farm to straddle Delaware and Randolph counties, Randolph County officials put out the welcome mat.

The Delaware-Muncie Metropolitan Plan Commission on Thursday night withdrew for further study a draft zoning amendment to permit wind farms in farming zones subject to regulations including noise, setbacks and vibration.

Citing citizen opposition to a proposed E.ON Climate & Renewables wind farm in eastern Delaware County, Plan Commission Chairman Tom Green has recommended holding off on the amendment for at least two years so the impacts of wind farms on residential property values can be studied.

In addition, members of the Delaware County Council have said it’s very likely the council would deny any request from E.ON for property tax abatement. As a result, the company withdrew an appearance before council last month.

But in Randolph County this week, the county council approved E.ON’s request for tax abatement.

E.ON attorney Mary Solada told officials wind farm construction in Randolph County would likely start before the end of this year and be completed by the end of 2014, the Winchester News-Gazette reported.

The newspaper also quoted E.ON development manager Lael Eason as telling officials wind turbine construction in Randolph County could increase, in part because of opposition in Delaware County.

Randolph County Attorney Meeks Cockerill told The Star Press on Friday that E.ON is planning to build 32 to 35 turbines in Randolph County. Delaware County officials have said E.ON planned to also build 22 to 29 turbines in Delaware County.

“They want 50 turbines, which would be a 100 megawatt project,” Cockerill said.

“They claimed they are going to try to get more leased ground but did not believe what they had now would get them the 100 megawatt farm if it were exclusively in Randolph County,” Cockerill said. “They would have to do a lot more leases.”

E.ON is among the developers that have submitted bids to I&M for a wind farm or wind farms in the company’s service territory, Cockerill said.

I&M’s service territory lies in Adams, Allen, Blackford, DeKalb, Delaware, Elkhart, Grant, Hamilton, Henry, Howard, Huntington, Jay, LaPorte, Madison, Marshall, Miami, Noble, Randolph, St. Joseph, Steuben, Tipton, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties, plus half a dozen counties in Michigan.

Besides E.ON, other bidders include NextEra Energy Resources, which is planning a wind farm to straddle Jay and Randolph counties.

I&M is expected to award a contract or contracts this month, Cockerill said. “They tell me they’re supposed to make announcements very soon,” he said. I&M spokesman Jim Riggle confirmed an announcement would come this month.

The utility required bidders to be able to construct a wind farm of at least 80 MW. To take advantage of federal production tax credits, construction must begin this year and be operational by the end of 2014, according to I&M’s request for proposals.

EDP Renewables, which also wants to build a wind farm in Randolph County, also submitted a bid to I&M.

So far, NextEra and E.ON have completed all agreements with local government to proceed in Randolph County.

I&M is already buying 250 MW of wind power from Fowler Ridge Wind Farm in Benton and Tippecanoe counties and the Wildcat Wind Farm in Madison and Tipton counties.

It’s a different story in Delaware County, where county council member Mike Jones told The Star Press last month it was very likely the council would deny E.ON property tax abatement. As a result, the company canceled an appearance before the council.

Delaware County Commissioner Larry Bledsoe said on Friday he didn’t know what impact Delaware County’s actions would have on E.ON’s plans in Randolph County.

“I’m not certain what that means for Randolph County – more wind turbines for Randolph County?” Bledsoe said. “I know they need to connect to the grid in Delaware County.”

With a wind farm in neighboring Madison County already running and the possibility of a wind farm or wind farms being built in Randolph County, that would give Delaware County two nearby places to study impacts on property values while it decides how to proceed.

“One thing I’ve learned as a commissioner is don’t get in a hurry when it comes to big projects like this,” said Bledsoe, who also sits on the plan commission. “If it’s a good project today, it’ll be a good project in 12 months or 24 months.”

Bledsoe sat on a committee that spent months drafting wind farm regulations, but he agrees with opponents that the regulations were not based on conclusive evidence.

“There is just so much information out there on wind farms,” Bledsoe said. “It’s overwhelming at times. There is so much information to decipher.”

Lindsey Shipps, a community organizer at Citizens Action Coalition, said, “When folks can’t agree on the facts, that’s a huge challenge. We are of course for it, to advance power, to create more jobs, to have an opportunity to generate homegrown energy that is not fossil fuel intensive. There have been no negative impacts (from wind energy) on the state whatsoever at this point.”

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2013/06/08/im-to-announce-wind-farm-deal-soon/