The five members of the Prowers County Planning Commission, following a March 31st public hearing on a proposed addition to a wind turbine project, voted in favor of approving a special use permit allowing for construction to begin within a year.
Pacific Wind Development, LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, LLC, has plans to construct 38 wind turbines on 11,000 acres of land 23 miles south of Lamar to the east of Highway 287. The Pacific Wind Project, known as Twin Buttes II, is currently zoned non-irrigated land, A-2. The project, expected to employ up to 150 construction workers, will be adjacent to current wind generation projects around Gobbler’s Knob, and will not deviate from current land use in the proposed area.
Mark Stacy, the Director for Business Development for Iberdrola Renewables, LLC, outlined the plans for about four dozen interested parties who attended the hearing, held at the Home Ec Building at the Prowers County Fairgrounds. “We’ll use the current transmission lines to connect the power output to the switching station,” he explained. He said the new turbines will be taller and have a larger span for blade width. “This will increase our power output from 1.5 Megawatts per turbine to two,” he added. The company plans to start construction by the fourth quarter to this year and the turbines would begin to develop power by the end of the fourth quarter of 2016. “We’d probably see from five to 6 permanent jobs developed for maintenance once the construction is complete,” he told the crowd.
There were few questions from the audience, but several focused on who bears the responsibility for any future decommissioning of the turbines if they are no longer in production from 25 to 30 years from now to which Stacy replied that Iberdrola would be. “That’s something we have in place with our landowners and two private parties contracting. We’re legally bound or our successors if our billion dollar company was to go bankrupt,” he explained. Several persons asked if the company is bonded regarding any decommissioning, or if the county could be held responsible for the costs of taking the turbines down. One person suggested that a percentage of revenue be set aside on the future probability of decommissioning any of the turbines, noting that a California incident had the originating company sell their turbines to another company which had assets less than the cost of decommissioning. “Those turbines are just rusting in their fields at this point,” she argued.
There were also concerns about Lesser Prairie Chickens nesting in the 11,000 acre complex and if that situation could cancel the project. “We’re hiring a biologist to study that area, plus a buffer area to make sure we’re in the clear,” Stacy remarked, adding, “Our status now is that the area is designated a low grade habitat for them, so there’s less of a chance of finding any and less of a chance that they’ll settle in the area once the turbines are up. If they move in after the turbines are operating, that’s an indication to us, there’s not that much of a problem.” There were also some issues about the contracts severing wind from the land as a commodity. Stacy replied that his contracts had the two tied together and it wasn’t the same as retaining mineral rights separate from land. Prowers County Land Use Director, Mary Root, remarked that the contract had been reviewed by the County Attorney, who offered no opinion on the construction proposal.
Prowers County Commissioner, Henry Schnabel, remarked on the economic benefits that came with the first turbine construction in 2005. Regarding some of the concerns that were brought up at the meeting, he offered, “We’ve never seen any concerns coming from the Butte One project so far. I really think this is a plus-plus for Prowers County and I think it’s something we want to see come in to our community.”