Construction on a 100-turbine wind farm is set to begin next year, but the developer first needs the county’s help.
The Mower County board unanimously agreed Tuesday to be the permitting authority for a substation and transmission line for the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm project near Dexter, Sargeant and into Dodge County for a second time after previous permits expired.
Sean Flannery, a permitting specialist with Renewable Energy Systems Americas, updated county officials on the project’s progress during Tuesday’s county board meeting as he asked the county to assume the permitting role it did in 2010. The county could have denied RES Americas’ request, forcing the state to handle the permitting.
“It’s much preferred for us and we believe for the county to maintain that local review authority, and permit the project locally,” Flannery said.
In December of 2010, The board approved three substations and two transmission lines for the then 300 MW wind farm developed by RES Americas – it was the final permitting the project needed before construction.
Then the project stalled, in part because of uncertainty about whether Congress would renew the federal wind production tax credit – a key subsidy for wind energy. Eventually, Congress extended the credit for a year.
In July, Excel Energy announced its intentions to buy the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm once it’s completed, but the project has undergone a bit of a makeover. The original plan called for a 300 MW wind farm of 130 to 180 turbines. The agreement with Xcel calls for a 200 MW wind farm of 100 2 MW turbines over 35,000 acres – 88 in Mower County and 12 in Dodge County.
The reduction in the wind farm’s size will also reduce the number of landowners involved in the project. At one point, more than 300 landowners were involved. Now, 180 are participating: 69 will have turbines on their property; the others will be involved in other capacities.
“We do have a lot of enthusiasm with our landowners finally seeing this – after years and years and years – moving forward toward something real,” Flannery said.
The project appears to have strong support with the county board, too. The county approved the permits once before, plus the county’s new logo unveiled Tuesday features a wind tower.
“I’m excited about it,” Commissioner Tim Gabrielson said. “We’ve been waiting and waiting and hoping it was going to get done before the CUP expired.”
RES Americas will begin building the wind farm next spring, and the wind farm should be completed by October 2015. RES Americas will build an operations and maintenance facility that will likely be located in Sargeant. Xcel will maintain the turbines after they’re built, and Flannery estimated the wind farm could bring six to eight new technician jobs. During construction, Flannery said a few hundred people will be working to erect the turbines.
Flannery said the county’s permitting could be a bit simpler this time around. In 2010, the county board approved three transmission lines and two substations. Now, RES Americas is only looking for one transmission line and one substation. The transmission line will tie into the Great River Energy Substation.
RES Americas is proposing two routes for the transmission line, a shorter route and a longer one. RES officials are negotiating with landowners along the two routes and hope to have agreements for the final route by the time permitting is complete.
First, RES and the county will hold a scoping meeting for the public to voice their concerns with the proposed substation and transmission routes. RES must address the concerns in an environmental assessment that will be presented to the county. The county can deny the environmental assessment and send it back to RES if it’s not acceptable. Environmental Services Director Angie Knish estimated the environmental assessment could be completed by the end of the year or January.
After the environmental assessment process is completed, more public hearings will be held on the final transmission line route and substation before the conditional use permits go before the board for approval.
No permitting will be completed in Dodge County, as the transmission line and substation will be entirely in Mower County.
The county’s motion stipulated the RES Americas reimburse the county for internal costs, and RES Americas will work with a contractor on some aspects of the permitting.
“We understand there’s work involved here; it’s work that’s very important to us and to the project,” Flannery said. “We’re more than willing to work with you on making sure that’s not a big drain on county resources.”
The life expectancy of the turbines is 20 to 25 years.
Production tax credit
The 88 turbines in Mower County will boost the amount of money the county receives through Wind Energy Production Tax, which is based on the amount of energy produced.
“We’re hoping everybody it rooting for the wind once it’s up and running,” Flannery said.
Flannery estimated each turbine will produce enough energy for $9,500 worth of tax revenue each year for a total of about $950,000 each year in tax revenue from the project. Eighty percent of the tax revenue from turbines goes to the county, and 20 percent goes to townships.
This year, Mower County is receiving more than $1.2 million through the from the county’s 256 wind turbines. County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said he expects to first see the increase in 2016, a year after the wind farm is completed and starts producing energy.
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