Due to the need to relocate 19 wind turbine sites from their original permitted location, the 500 MW Highland Wind Farm Project construction permit was recently amended at an O’Brien County Board of Supervisors meeting. The original construction permit was approved on August 20, 2013.
In a Febrary 2014 cover letter to the Board, MidAmerican Energy Wind Energy supervisor Adam Jablonski said the 19 wind turbine locations require adjustments greater than 300 feet from their original permitted sites.
Chicago based Invenergy LLC acquired their initial landowner easements in 2004, with additional easements acquired in 2007 and 2008. Last spring, easements acquired years earlier were incorporated into the project for a total of 218 turbine sites.
Representing the project were Jablonski and Invenergy Project Developer Erin Brush. Steve Hallgren with Northwest Iowa Planning and Development Commission in Spencer consults for the county on matters of new proposed infrastructure projects. Hallgren reviewed all the turbine relocations addressed in this amendment and said the new sites conform to the O’Brien County Wind Energy Device Ordinance.
Jablonski said, “As we anticipated in the original building permit and as we continue to develop the project, we knew there would be changes to some wind turbine locations. This is a very large project. It’s MidAmerican’s largest one-time build project.
Jablonski said project contractor Mortenson Construction of Minnesota is getting ready to remobilize again for an April 1st re-start. That date may get pushed back due to the weather and a really deep frost this winter.
Mortenson plans to finish most of the turbine foundations this year. They will also concentrate on the underground cable collecting system that runs from each turbine and then back to the substation. And in 2015 they plan to finish up foundation work and start erecting wind turbine components. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2015.
When asked if more turbine relocations were possible, Jablonski said, “Yes. It’s likely there will be more. As development of the wind farm continues over the next month or two, that process will be finalized. The plan is right now to bring one more amendment to the Board at the end of the project.”
As far as why these relocations were needed, Jablonski said, “There are multiple reasons for these relocations. Utility setback issues related to underground gas pipelines was one. We have to work with them. Sometimes, a utility has an easement that covers an entire property.
“Some landowners have concerns and we’ll review those when we need to. Some of the relocations just east of Primghar were because of late approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration. Some didn’t have that approval at the time the original permit was approved. Some were also affected by environmental setbacks.”
Daryl Haack with the O’Brien County Landowner’s Association asked questions about how the underground cable collecting systems will be constructed. Haack said one landowner living near one of the proposed substation sites expressed to him that there could be too many individual ditches crossing his land and headed for the substation. Landowners seemed to want more information about this portion of the project.
Haack asked, “Are there setbacks showing these ditches must be a certain distance from different objects? How much separation must there be between these individual ditches? Does the County have any stipulations in the ordinance that limits the number of ditches that can cross someone’s property?”
Jablonski answered, “There is a separation distance between the collector lines, usually 10 to 12 feet. There are certain locations that will have more collector lines than others. We have considered that in our easement agreements. About 60 % of all the parcels in the wind farm will have cable collection lines only and no turbine. That’s just a rough number.
“The more collector cable lines the landowner has, the more they will be compensated. Each collector line circuit will have up to 10 wind turbines bringing power back to the substation,” Jablonski noted. “It will be a month or two from now before we have the first cable layout drawing available.”
That could mean perhaps 21 circuits will funnel power towards the substation. On the most recent drawing of the 70,000 acre wind farm, two locations are identified where the substation will connect the wind farm onto the high voltage grid. One site is Section 9, Dale Township in the SE quarter. The other site is Section 20, Dale Township in the SE quarter.
When asked about a final decision for the substation location, Jablonski said, “In the next month or two, we should know which of the two sites will be chosen. I’d say right now a tentative date to start building the substation would certainly be this summer. We need to determine that site for sure.”
One person in attendance simply listening to the discussion offered her view of the project. “I live here in O’Brien County. I am excited to see that this project is here. I and my family like to see the growth. I know there are a lot of details. I know there’s a lot of discussion within the community about the tower locations. I just want to express that this is positive growth,” said Carmen Billick, a Summit Township resident.
Supervisor Tom Farnsworth offered a motion to approve amendment #1 to the Building Permit for the Highland Wind Energy project and John Steensma seconded the motion. A unanimous vote was recorded and the amendment adopted.
In a separate development related to the Highland Wind Farm project, city leaders and the Primghar Advancement Corporation (PAC) started discussions last fall about re-zoning an area for heavy industrial uses in the southeast part of Primghar. MidAmerican Energy also expressed a desire to build an office area.
PAC then brought the idea to the Planning & Zoning Commission in early January. A public hearing was held on January 30th for creating a 16.7 acre heavy industrial area south of the Industrial Park and east of the Figure 8 track. At that Public Hearing, no verbal or written objections were received at City Hall. An approval vote was recorded and the matter was sent on to the Primghar City Council.
The City Council held a public hearing on Monday, Feb. 17th to discuss the matter and come to a decision. Primghar City Manager Marlene Anderson informed the council that City Hall has received no written or verbal objections to re-zoning this area from an agricultural area to a heavy industrial area.
Mayor Kurt Edwards said the City would apply for a RISE Grant to help with paying for the cost of building a paved road. Edwards said, “An early cost estimate from the City’s consulting engineer, DGR from Rock Rapids, said it could range from $250,000 to $350,000 in total. Our chances for getting a grant would be enhanced because a clean energy company wants to locate in the industrial area.” City crews will install an electric service into the area as well as water and sewer systems.
Anderson said, “We’ve a couple of other things going for us. MidAmerican is planning to locate permanent employees out there. That’s one thing RISE looks at. They also look at streets in the area. We have some positive aspects that will help us get the grant. I’ll be working with Steve Hallgren at the Northwest Iowa Planning & Development Commission when applying for this grant.”
After no further discussion, a motion was offered and approved with a unanimous vote to approve the re-zoning for the 16.7 acre area from Agriculture to Heavy Industrial use area.