Opponents of a proposed wind turbine farm project in May’s Lick, wearing buttons that said “Get The Facts,” filled the former Mason County courtroom to capacity Tuesday.
At least 100 people attended the regular Mason County Fiscal Court meeting, which was moved from the smaller court chambers on the ground floor to the former courtroom of the building.
Tuesday’s meeting was the fifth meeting since May in which opponents to the project have been in attendance.
At the beginning of the meeting, Judge-Executive James L. “Buddy” Gallenstein asked the crowd to be respectful during a presentation by Duke Energy representatives.
“There will be a time and place for public comment,” Gallenstein said.
Graham Furlong, with Duke Energy’s Commercial Renewable division was accompanied by Van Needham of Duke Energy Kentucky.
Furlong’s presentation began shortly after 9 a.m., and included a PowerPoint presentation and a question and answer session afterward. Discussion didn’t end until approximately 10:50 a.m. The crowd listened intently throughout the meeting, and relied on county commissioners, Gallenstein, and County Attorney John Estill to ask questions of Furlong and Needham.
The cry of opposition has included questions about how long Duke Energy has been in the county securing land leases from property owners; when research began; and when county officials were contacted by Duke about the project.
Furlong explained Duke Energy has investigated sites in Kentucky that currently have no regulated Duke utility customers (gas, electric) for a wind project under the umbrella of Duke Energy Renewables. He said federal tax credits are in part driving utilities to explore wind power, along with possible shut-downs of fossil-fueled power plants under more stringent federal environmental laws.
“At some stage it will happen in Kentucky and we want to be the one to do it,” he said.
He showed a map of the targeted area from the northwest area of May’s Lick, traveling southeast to the Flemingsburg area. Furlong said the area has the “best wind resource we found here.”
He said the following has already happened: land leases have been signed (securing about 10,000 acres); wind data collection via a 60 meter Met tower has been going on for a year; an interconnection application has been filed with East Kentucky Power Cooperative, which is now part of PJW, for the project to produce 150 megawatts of wind power; a desktop environmental review is being conducted; and an understanding of federal and state permitting requirements is underway.
The project calls for 26 to 100 turbines located in Mason and Fleming counties; and estimated construction date is 2016 – 2019.
“We’re still in the very early stage,” he said.
The next steps are to determine if a market for wind power exists in Kentucky; continue data collection; and sign more land leases. He said Duke would be obligated to comply with any local zoning ordinances related to setbacks and other restrictions to the project; must receive approval from the Kentucky Public Service Commission’s Merchant Power Siting Board (which oversees unregulated utilities such as wind turbines); and commercial operation wouldn’t begin until 2017-2019.
“We’re not looking to start construction overnight on this … there are still quite a few things to figure out,” he said.
The presentation included benefits to the community: land payments; a small environmental footprint; and property tax revenues. Tax revenues for an estimated $200 million project investment, he said, would net $8 million in revenue to be divided between state and local governments.
Furlong acknowledged coal is important to Kentucky and the local economy and said Duke is not taking a position against coal; in fact, Duke operates its own coal-fired plants.
Gallenstein asked if the Duke project is related to the NextEra wind farm project proposed two years ago in the Germantown area. Furlong said there is no partnership with NextEra and the two companies are competitors.
Furlong was asked if this project is successful, would other turbines be built, to which he answered there could be others.
He said the standard industry height right now on finished turbines is 330 feet.
In regard to concerns about the impact on wildlife, flicker, noise and health issues, Furlong said three of every 100,000 birds are killed by turbines; people should look to medical peer review group studies rather than internet studies; flicker can be minimized to a certain number of hours per year; and at other Duke wind farms, livestock stand next to the turbines for shade benefits.
Commissioners Pat McKay, Annette Walters and Phil Day all asked questions.
Walters asked when the signing of land contracts began, he said last year; when was the first contact with county officials, he said earlier this summer; who is DEGS Wind LLC, he explained it’s a limited liability company of Duke Energy; when the Met tower was built to collect date, he said fall 2012, the second Met tower in the area belongs to NextEra; Duke’s minimum setbacks from inhabited structures, he said 1,000 feet, non-inhabited is 500 feet; setback from a populated area (town), he said 1.5 miles.
Furlong said Duke will work with the county to keep roads leading into the area in good shape.
Estill asked if changes in Congressional behaviors, such as reductions or increases to the federal tax credits for alternative energy sources would impact the future of the project. Acknowledging no one can predict what the government will do, Furlong did agree changes to tax credits could impact the future of the project.
Estill also confirmed the wind farm would not be regulated by the Kentucky Public Service Commision, but rather the PSC Merchant Siting Board and local zoning ordinances.
Estill asked if local or MSB setbacks would “trump” Duke setbacks, to which Furlong answered “yes.”
Gallenstein asked Furlong to answer “for the record” when the two met in person for the first time, to which Furlong said “this morning at 8 a.m.”
Gallenstein said he felt the court had sufficient time to do more studies to “get this right, to get more data and to write a proper ordinance.” He said in thinking about the issue, he had a flashback to when EKPC came to the area to build the Spurlock Station at Charleston Bottoms.
“I think we need to get this absolutely right,” he said. “We are a coal dependent county and state … there was opposition to that and opposition to this. It’s absolutely crucial to get this right … to refer it to planning and zoning to get more data so we can move forward one way or another.”
Following discussion between county officials, Walters made a motion to call a meeting to establish the objectives of the court related to possible zoning changes and ordinances, which will be sent to the JPC. Once the issue is sent to the JPC, public hearings will be held to allow all parties involved to present evidence in the matter.
The motion was seconded by Day and passed by a unanimous vote.