A proposed wind farm that would bring 45 turbines to a rural property near Newell was generally well received at a recent public hearing where officials with the energy company said they would provide work for up to 200 people initially and generate significant local taxes for Butte County.
At a pair of recent hearings held by the Public Utilities Commission, and led by PUC Chairman Chris Nelson, officers for Wind Quarry LLC further explained details about their plan to create a 45-turbine wind farm on private land northeast of Newell, off Highway 212 in the area of Twilight Road.
Company officials, including brothers John O’Meara and Patrick O’Meara, showed the PUC members and public a 30-minute power point presentation which included maps, visual simulations and facts and information.
The area would be dubbed Willow Creek Wind Energy Facility, and it would produce 103 megawatts of power for residential, commercial and industrial customers. According to the O’Mearas, the turbines would sit on 42,000 acres of private land about 10 miles northeast of Newell; the site would feature 45 turbines, access roads, a collector substation, an operations/maintenance facility, and an interconnection facility. The turbines would connect with the Western Area Power Administrations Maurine to Rapid City through a 115 Kilovolt transmission line.
The company filed its application to the state on May 27, but officials from Wind Quarry have been in the area for about two years, gathering environmental data and other information before making their application to the PUC.
In addition to creating a clean energy source, the wind far would create significant employment, including 200 workers during construction, and up to six full-time jobs once operational.
According to Patrick O’Meara, the project would help revitalize the rural community with tax revenue and direct lease payments to landowners.
The company said the wind in the area, holding at around 8 to 9 mph, is adequate to turn the turbines. O’Meara said the firm also has considered the impact to any endangered species in the area including whooping cranes and sage grouse and have determined that there is no danger to these animals or birds nor any other creatures, wetland areas, habitats or birds. Nor are there any historic places or landmarks to be considered within the project footprint or for anything in the one mile buffer, he said.
John O’Meara said the wind turbines would only be barely visible from Newell city limits.
“You would just barely be able to see the tips of the turbines with binoculars,” he said, referring to the view to the northeast from the edge of town.
Residents asked several questions during the public hearings. Robert Boylan, who ranches west of the proposed site, asked whether neighbors could expect that if successful, the wind farm would likely expand.
Company officials responded that at this time, there would not be enough transmission line capacity to expand energy production.
Newell Mayor Mike Keolker said he was concerned about how housing could be provided for 200 workers during construction. He also wanted more concrete data about economic impacts.
“My expectation is that there will be a slight uptick in economic impact to Newell,” said the mayor. “The long-term potential might be several new families living in the local area. Hopefully they would be families that would move here for these positions.”
John O’Meara said that even though the company does not have PUC approval, contracts from companies that would buy the power, or a finalized environmental impact statement, that construction of the turbines and equipment could still begin very soon.
“We could potentially break ground any time,” he said.
The actual construction process would probably take around nine months, according to O’Meara, and would include excavation and construction of individual turbine stations.
PUC Commissioner Nelson said he had experience with approval of a 108-turbine wind farm in East River and said the project was finished in five months in the winter.
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