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County makes wind farm decision; County goes with letter of credit for decommissioning

PRINCETON – After several months of consideration, the Bureau County Board has made its decision on how to handle decommissioning funds for the Big Sky wind farm near Ohio.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the county board voted 16 to 5 to approve a $2 million letter of credit to the Big Sky wind farm, which is currently owned by Ever Power. Voting against that action were board members Connie Stetson, Kristi Warren, John Baracani, Marshann Entwhistle and Jeff Mangrich. Board member Bob Albrecht abstained from the vote, due to conflict of interest. Absent from Tuesday’s meeting were board members Joe Bassetti, Tom Giordano, Bob McCook and Tom Ptasnik.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, the board heard from rural Walnut resident Ed Gerdes who said he and a group of other residents were concerned about the county possibly granting a letter of credit to the wind farm for decommissioning costs. The group’s recommendation would be to go with performance bonds which he said would cover the entire cost of decommissioning. The group was also concerned Big Sky participating landowners would be responsible for making up for lost property taxes as the turbines depreciate. Also in 15-20 years when it comes to decommissioning time, the new towers would be taller and need larger bases than the current ones, he said.

Though he didn’t agree with those people who signed as participating landowners with Big Sky, they are still friends and neighbors and the group cares about what will happen with them when it comes to decommissioning, Gerdes said.

Board member Steve Sondgeroth did question Gerdes on the accuracy of a study used by the group, and presented to the board at its May meeting. The study showed the cost to take down the 87 turbines would be about $224,000 per turbine. But after further examination and study, that number should be more in the $126,000 range, Sondgeroth said.

Ever Power/Big Sky spokesperson Mike Speerschneider said the proposed letter of credit would be for $2 million, rather than the current $1.8 million cash-on-hand arrangement. Letters of credit are a contract between the county and the bank. If there was ever a default or bankruptcy problem with the wind farm company, the bank would still have the duty to pay the full amount to the county, he said.

Letters of credit are a common financial instrument in the wind farm industry, Speerschneider said. After talking to brokers, the use of performance bonds, as suggested by Gerdes, was not easily done, he said.

In her comments, board member Connie Stetson recommended the county keep the cash on hand, which is what she thinks county residents would want.

In her presentation, Zoning Committee Chairman Marsha Lilley said the committee did not have a recommendation for the board concerning the Big Sky decommissioning funds. The committee had three members in favor of a letter of credit, three in favor of keeping the cash, and one committee member abstaining.

In a related wind farm-matter, the board decided an outside facilitator was not needed to moderate future zoning hearings on wind farm issues.