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Company eyes farmland for wind turbines

KENNEDYVILLE – A new type of farm may come to Kent County in a few years, provided the wind is right and the land remains available.

Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Va., is studying the feasibility of a wind farm to be located southeast of Kennedyville, between state routes 213 and 291. The Mills Branch Wind Energy Project is expected to include 35 to 45 wind turbines situated over about 5,000 acres of leased farmland.

“Each turbine requires less than half an acre of land. In most cases, it’s closer to about a quarter of an acre,” said Tyson Utt, a director of development at Apex, in an interview earlier this month.

Utt said Apex is studying farmland around Angelica Nursery properties because it does not want to place turbines too close to the Chester or Sassafras rivers. He also said Apex hopes to connect to a high-voltage transmission line running through the area near Kennedyville.

Open farmland, existing high-voltage lines and a good wind resource are the ingredients Apex is looking for when selecting a site, Utt said.

“All of those things sort of blend together to make what we think would be an appropriate spot for a project,” he said.

Utt said the wind turbines could be 500 feet tall.

“But they’re spaced out like a quarter mile to a half mile apart. So, they’re not all sort of crammed in to one spot,” said Utt of the proposed Mills Branch turbines.

For comparison, the turbine at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills is 150 feet tall from base to the top of the blades.

Also, Utt said access roads are required to reach the turbines, though farmers would still be able to work the fields surrounding the turbines without worries of disturbing underground cables.

“It’s kind of intended to have minimal disturbance on the surface of the land,” he said.

Utt said Apex is already garnering interest among some of the area’s property owners.

He said leases have been signed, allowing Apex to commence the various studies required before a single turbine goes up. The company is collecting wind data, reviewing the area’s electricity distribution and the high-voltage transmission line’s capacity and conducting environmental studies, such as flight paths of migratory birds.

Utt said Apex is coordinating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on the environmental studies. He said biologists are visiting the Mills Branch sight every two weeks for bird studies.

“They literally count every bird they see, what is it, how high is it flying, what sex is it, what is it doing, you know, all that,” Utt said.

Utt said the studies are going well, and Apex is ready to go public with the project. He said the company plans to have an open house and town hall meetings as the project progresses.

“I think we’re kind of getting to that point now where, you know, we want to start introducing ourselves more to people in the community – let them know what we’re up to and just start to answer questions people might have,” Utt said.

According to Utt, Apex considered various locations on the Delmarva peninsula before settling on Kent County. He said the company has developed projects throughout the U.S., and is focusing now on the East Coast.

Utt said farmers hosting turbines benefit through revenue sharing with Apex. He said that diversifies a farmer’s income with a stable source of money.

“All that being said, we know that proposing a wind farm in Kent County is a new idea,” Utt said.

When the studies are complete, Apex will be required to apply for a number of permits associated with the Mills Branch project. Depending on the project’s expected output, Apex may have to go before the Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates public utilities.

For more information about the Mills Branch Wind Energy Project, visit www.millsbranchwind.com.