The location for another MidAmerican Energy 345,000 volt (kV) substation now doubles the focus of the O’Brien County Supervisors. As if the Highland Wind Farm issue wasn’t enough for the Board to deal with, a 2nd planned substation surfaced at an April 29 Board meeting to compound matters.
Present were Kevin Mars and Tracy Wittrock, adjacent landowners to the proposed wind farm substation site. However, the new participant joining the fracas is Kelly Ney, owner of land in Highland, Summit and Lincoln Townships. MidAmerican Energy’s 51-year old 345 kV power line has crossed Ney property in Section 34, Summit Township since the line was built in the early 1960s. Ney has been a loud and vocal opponent of wind energy and electric transmission line construction.
County auditor Barb Rohwer introduced the 2nd substation issue when she explained, “I got a phone call from a gal that works for Environmental Energy Group. They are getting ready to build a substation that they’re working on up in Lincoln Township.”
However, before delving into the 2nd substation issue, recent developments with the wind farm substation along 410th Street near the Kevin and Jen Mars residence now threatens to blow that issue all out of proportion.
Kevin and Jen Mars, MidAmerican Wind Supervisor Adam Jablonski, and Northwest Iowa Planning and Development Commission Planning Director Steve Hallgren attended the April 22 meeting when a long discussion about a proposed amendment to the O’Brien County Wind Energy Device Ordinance #22 unfolded.
At that April 22 meeting, part of the discussion centered on the exact Ordinance #22 wording. Supervisor Tom Farnsworth argues that wording in the ordinance was too loose and critical points can be viewed differently.
Farnsworth repeatedly said at that April 22 meeting that the language created a gray area because of the potential for misinterpretation of the language and intent in the original wording.
Fast forward one week to April 29 at another even more contentious supervisors meeting, Kevin Mars addressed Farnsworth. “Tom. What I see is not a gray area. It’s clearly written right here in the existing wind ordinance.
“I’ve got a proposal back from MidAmerican Energy. The things in your wind device ordinance are exactly what’s in my proposal. I’m talking, guys, that it’s verbatim in there. That’s not a gray area. That substation can’t be within 1,200′ of my house. I mean, it’s in that proposal. It’s not gray.”
Mars continued, “I got a proposal from MidAmerican, you know for a good neighbor policy. Right in that thing it says what that ordinance is covering is the transmission noise. Your ordinance right there says transformers. That should cover it right verbatim. There are transformers in the wind substation and there are transformers in your wind ordinance. It says right in that ordinance.”
Tracy Wittrock read from the ordinance, “It says right here your definition of a wind energy device is a wind energy converting system. Isn’t that the substation? Isn’t that what it’s doing? The way I read that is that’s clearly a substation. It doesn’t say substation, but what else does that word mean? Wind energy converting system, its right in there. You guys wrote it.”
“Please take it to Micah (County Attorney) and have Ordinance #22 looked at,” Mars pleaded. “And have him really look at this. To us, it’s very clear in there that there’s a 1,200’setback. I guess the other part is, I don’t know if you want me to bring in support or not.” Mars clearly thought about the idea of bringing his neighborhood to the May 6 supervisor’s meeting.
“There’s two tap down structures that MidAmerican needs to get down off my 345 kV line,” Mars continued, while showing photos of what the structure looks like.
“Guys, that existing line is 500′ from my house and these things will be within 200′ of my house. We are not just talking about the substation. We’re talking about these two tap down structures,” said Mars.
“Can we have a copy of that proposal?” Rohwer questioned.
“You may sure have one. This isn’t the proposal, this is a picture,” Mars said.
“I mean the language they are giving you,” Rohwer tried to clarify.
“No. That’s confidential,” Mars firmly said.
“But, this is just a picture of what that tap down structure is,” Mars explained. “I cannot divulge any more than that.”
The Board members then shuffled through some of the photos showing what kinds of infrastructure might be located much too close to the Mars property.
“I have just one more objection, if I may,” said Mars. “On August 23 of last year, my wife wrote them a letter, an email, and asked them if the substation has to fall underneath the regulations of the wind farm. We wrote that to Adam Jablonski and he never commented back on that. Not yes, no, maybe, or nothing. He just left it out of his answer. Which tells me, and just so you guys all know; they’ve never exercised their option yet to buy it.”
When Mars said MidAmerican Energy still hadn’t executed their formal option to buy the 40 acre tract from Lowell Wilson, this was unknown and astounding to the Board.
“And Lowell went out there Saturday and tore the whole thing up. He went over the whole works, surveyor’s stakes and everything and tore it up. He tilled it!” Mars emphatically stated.
“Lowell told MidAmerican that if they didn’t execute their option, he was going to plant the crop,” Mars continued to explain. “And they never got back to him. He’s planning on planting a crop in there.
“Which tells me guys, that what I’m saying is there’s got to be something to this 1,200′ deal, because if MidAmerican had free rein to do it, then they surely would’ve exercised their option by now. And they haven’t exercised their option. That’s why we’re thinking please look into it deeper. There’s got to be something there. Otherwise, they would’ve built this thing already.
“After the meeting on Tuesday the 22nd, Tracy and I talked to Steve Hallgren downstairs. He said basically the way he still reads it; he feels there’s enough in there to go with it. He thought enough teeth were in this thing already. Hallgren’s feelings to us were that this ordinance should fly. And that’s what he told Tracy and me downstairs,” Mars explained.
“We need to get Micah in here,” said Farnsworth, growing frustrated.
“Okay, so at what point then, whose fight is it? I mean is it okay here’s our ordinance. It’s up to you guys to push it,” said Rohwer.
“Our feeling is you guys made an ordinance,” said Mars. “You have to go to Invenergy/MidAmerican Energy and say you have to comply with the ordinance. It’s the Board’s job to make them comply with the ordinance. It’s like you guys are the police officers enforcing the law. You guys are the police officers and that’s the law.”
“It says the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors wishes to adopt and enforce the following wind ordinance,” said Wittrock, while reading directly from Ordinance #22.
“So, if they have a 1,200′ setback, there’s no way they can put that substation there because they don’t have the room,” concluded Board Chairman Jim DeBoom.
“Exactly! And guys, I mean if some of us might feel bad, if they can’t do it,” explained Mars. They have another site! They were supposed to get two sites from Invenergy for them. If Invenergy couldn’t give them two suitable sites, that’s not your problem. That’s not the Board’s problem. Really, it’s not MidAmerican’s problem. Invenergy didn’t give them two suitable sites. That’s one thing I want to make very clear to you guys. That it’s not your problem,” Mars underscored. “So, if it costs MidAmerican more money, they should’ve thought of that before they signed off to buy this project.
“I guess I’m here to say again, too. I feel if you won’t do this, you are more representing MidAmerican than you are me. I’m here as a taxpayer and I think that you guys need to take my side in this, I guess. And please try to take it to Micah to see what’ll happen. I mean all you’re out is a letter to them to say that you aren’t in compliance and see what they do. Maybe they’ll say ‘Hey, we are out of compliance. We’d better move this thing, substation.
“You don’t know what they are going to do. We don’t, none of us do. But, at least please send a letter to them,” Mars reiterated.
“Let’s get Micah in here,” said Farnsworth.
“Yeah, said Deboom. “That’s all we can do.”
“Thank you guys for this. We do appreciate this. You guys have a thankless job here. Don’t get me wrong. Who would have thought? Even Lowell Wilson said that at one time, he didn’t know this would become this much of an issue. I think maybe he’d have had a different idea.
“So, like you said, nobody ever lies like Ney says. But by omission, MidAmerican only tells you what they need to, or how many wind mills are going into your field. Thank you guys,” Mars concluded.
(Part II of the MidAmerican Substations Saga will reveal Kelly Ney’s point of view over this confounding issue.)
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