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2nd O’Brien County wind farm approved; Project includes 104 turbines impacting 50,000 acres

PRIMGHAR – Leading the agenda at the Aug. 4 O’Brien County Board of Supervisors meeting was hearing a point-by-point review of Invenergy’s O’Brien Wind Energy Project construction permit application. Invenergy’s proposed 250 megawatt approximately 50,000-acre wind farm project will be the County’s 2nd major wind farm since the August 2013 approval of the Highland Wind Energy Project now under way.

Chicago – based Invenergy filed their 2nd wind farm permit application in early July after meeting the County’s wind energy ordinance requirement to hold a public informational meeting in Sanborn on June 23rd. This means the stage was set for the formal public hearing on Aug. 18 for the project, which could approach a net acquisition cost of $450 million.

Steve Hallgren, Planning director with the Northwest Iowa Planning and Development Commission,reviewed Invenergy’s application once it was presented to the County, and he was present at the Aug. 4th meeting to report his findings after examining the application and other required permits like the FAA approval. Also present was business development associate Dani Zimmerman with Invenergy.

“The reason I’m here today is that I want to disseminate my information to the Board to give you guys ample opportunity to look at it and see if any changes need to be made,” said Hallgren.

Hallgren then offered his comments on the provisions set forth in the wind energy ordinance section by section as they relate to Invenergy’s application.

“The application documents and maps of the project that they provided me, I’ve looked at the maps. They have indicated that all the turbine sites have the appropriate setbacks of 528 feet from any right-of-way and overhead utility lines; 1,200 feet from the nearest occupied dwelling and 500 feet from the nearest other structures including unoccupied dwellings,” Hallgren reported. “All of the proposed sites met the setback requirements.”

A new property line setback provision, Section 4(b), has been added since the wind energy ordinance was created and after Invenergy’s 2013 permit was issued. Section 4(b) requires that no part of a wind turbine shall overhang any adjoining property without securing an easement from the neighboring property owner.

The Siemens wind turbines have a rotor diameter of 108 meters. So, the turbine site can be no closer than 177 feet, or half the rotor diameter, to an adjoining property owner.

Hallgren said Invenergy is working with the O’Brien County Engineer’s office to formalize a new Road Use Agreement. This shows how Invenergy will replace and repair any damaged public or private infrastructure during the wind farm construction. He said the agreement is similar to the one already in affect with the Highland project.

The last issue of consequence that Hallgren discussed was the wind farm point of interconnection with the high voltage grid. Hallgren noted that this will be near the new MidAmerican Energy switching substation in Lincoln Township near Sanborn.

This point of interconnection will be on the existing 345 kV Raun-Lakefield Junction power line where the new O’Brien County to Webster County MVP 3 power line will start at the east side of the substation.

This site meets the new 1,200 foot substation setback provision that was amended into the ordinance. This ordinance amendment stems from the 2014 debacle with the Highland wind farm substation in Dale Township being so close to farmsteads.

Hallgren noted that at the time of the August 4th supervisors meeting, Invenergy had not formally acquired the land for the wind farm substation site. “The acquisition is not 100 % complete yet and you probably want to see that shored up as a condition of approving the construction permit, said Hallgren.

Hallgren briefly discussed the language in the building permit itself. He said Invenergy is seeking to permit 111 wind turbines sites, though only 104 actual sites will contain turbines. If while the wind farm is under construction and more than 27 sites need to be relocated for various reasons, then the original permit will be revoked and Invenergy will need to request a new permit.

Also present at this Inevergy public hearing was MidAmerican Energy Wind Energy Supervisor Adam Jablonski. Coincidentally, it was back on May 1, 2015 when MEC announced plans to invest approximately $900 million in another new Iowa wind energy infrastructure expansion program.

MEC said in their May 1st news release, “MidAmerican Energy is in the process of obtaining necessary permits and easements for the construction of wind farms at two new sites. Pending IUB approval, the company plans to begin construction in spring 2016, with completion scheduled for the end of 2016.”

While heavy thunderstorms were in progress, Board Chairman John Steensma called the public meeting to order. The heavy rains over a two-day period may have been the cause for the relatively low turn out of about 35 landowners and others interested in what the Board would decide.

Steensma then asked Invenergy’s Dani Zimmerman, Project Manager, for an overview of the 250 megawatt wind farm project and a brief description of Invenergy as a developer of wind energy across North America and Europe.

Zimmerman said, “Particularly, with our wind energy, we have placed 51 wind farms into operation, the majority of which are in North America which makes us the largest independent wind power generation company in North America.

“Moving on to the project, the proposed O’Brien Wind Energy Project will be a 250 MW project located in northern O’Brien County, primarily in Lincoln, Franklin, Summit and Center Townships. We have submitted 111 locations, but ultimately only 104 will be constructed with 7 being alternate sites.

“Other than that, our point of interconnection will be at the MidAmerican Energy substation that’s currently under construction. The site that we have identified is just east of that switchyard. That’s the big picture of the project.

“I know we’ve been asked if this will become a MidAmerican Energy project as well. We have met with MidAmerican Energy whereby upon our completion of the development of the project, it will be transferred to them to construct, own and operate. This is like it was with the Highland Wind Farm Project.”

Steensma opened the meeting up to questions or comments from the public and a question was asked about how many wind turbine technicians this project would support. Jablonski said this project would add perhaps 10 to 12 more technicians to the 15 required for the Highland project. All the turbine technicians are Siemens employees and will work out of the new Highland operations & maintenance facility currently under construction in Primghar.

Farnsworth offered to approve the building permit including the 11 permit conditions. Jim DeBoom seconded the motion to approve. The motion won a unanimous approval.

During a brief Q & A with Jablonski afterwards, he said that some work will be done this fall on the wind farm substation site mostly grading work and getting the site ready. Jablonski said that driveway entrance work, access road construction, turbine preparation and foundation excavation, concrete pouring and backfilling wouldn’t start until the spring of 2016.

Jablonski said turbine component deliveries would also start in the spring and said that MidAmerican Energy and Siemens had signed an agreement for the 104 turbines required for this project. Jablonski said that the entire project would be mostly finished during a one year period.

Once both MidAmerican Energy wind farms are in operation, O’Brien County farmers from about 120,000 acres of fertile mostly row crop farmland will harvest a bumper crop of wind energy and transform it into 750 MW of power generation by the end of 2016.