A possible 97-turbine wind farm in southern DeKalb and northern Clinton counties has been a possibility since 2008. The project would have an ability to produce 200 megawatts, which would be enough to power 60,000 homes.
In 2010, the company had its Osborn Wind Energy Center fully permitted but didn’t have a buyer and the project went on hold, said Steve Stengel, a spokesman for NextEra Energy. However, in the last five years improvements in wind turbine technology, a larger transmission line and other improvements have made the project viable.
The company got approval Monday to build two 197-foot meteorological towers in Colfax Township, just north of U.S. Highway 36. It already had approval to build another tower six weeks before Monday’s meeting. All three red and white met towers have been erected.
The company is re-verifying wind data with the hope it can start construction in summer 2016, Mr. Stengel said. Wind farms require four things, which have to all be present in order for a project to happen:
❯ Wind conditions have to be right. The company has a subsidiary called Wind Logic’s, which has done analysis and rigorous research but to make a $350 million investment current conditions have to prove or disprove that work, Mr. Stengel said.
❯ There has to be a buyer for the energy produced. The company has a potential buyer if the project is permitted and built, said Jeremy Ferrell, NextEra’s project manager for the Osborn Wind Energy Center.
❯ Property owners must be willing to lease land. Each wind turbine requires an access road and tower land amounting to about one acre. The company doesn’t use eminent domain but signs leases, which will insure the owner earns quite a bit more than for a row crop on the same amount of land, Mr. Ferrell said.
❯ The company must be able to have access to transmission lines for the power generated. There is a new transmission line being completed in the area, Mr. Ferrell said.
Wind farm means big changes
Over the 30-year life of this project, NextEra Energy would invest some $350 million, which should generate $35 million in local property taxes for the two counties, Mr. Stengel said. NextEra is the largest producer and operator of wind farms in North America with about 10,000 operating turbines, he said. For the Osborn Wind Energy Center, the company plans to use General Electric wind turbines, which are largely built in the USA.
Colfax Township, which lies north of U.S. Highway 36 between Stewartsville and Osborn, adopted zoning regulations in 2008 for wind turbines.
The company is willing to abide by all of those zoning regulations for the Osborn Wind Energy Center, Mr. Stengel said.
Area residents who own small lots and small farms have begun to agitate against the project.
“We probably wouldn’t have bought (land) if we’d known it (the wind farm) might be something right outside the window,” said Ron Hayter, a property owner in Colfax Township. “It’s not fair how it’s being handled, especially when three of the four zoning board people having contracts.”
A retired St. Joseph fireman who lives in the townships also has an opinion.
“All this (he pointed to the trees, his horse and the green fields) is about to be ruined by greed,” siad Bob Hunter.
Chris Motsinger, who’s lived in the area all his life, said he has dreams of building on a small plot he bought.
“I could preach for days but the bottom line is it’s about the money,” he said.
Some area residents recently raised concerns about the impact of wind turbines on migrating birds, which use the nearby Pony Express Lake Conservation Area.
While all forms of power generation have some impact on birds, the actual array of wind turbines also will look at the environmental impact on bats, birds, cultural resources and wetlands, Mr. Stengel said. The company plans to build in a way to reduce its footprint on the environment.
A grandmother said she has health concerns.
“I’m scared,” Anne Sykes said. “I just want to raise tomatoes and grandchildren.”
Many small landowners also are expressing concerns about how the value of their property without a wind turbine will be impacted by larger property owners having towers.
“I believe the (property) value will be slashed by at least half,” Ms. Sykes said.
Signs are being erected by some people to express a desire to see any wind farm disappear.
Benefit to tax districts
Tax districts where wind turbines are built will benefit from increased tax dollars, but the two counties will get smaller amounts of revenue.
“Speaking for myself, I have to say the county has no say in what will or won’t happen, said Gary McFee, DeKalb County Eastern District commissioner. It will all be decided at the township level, he added. He said it will generate some money for the county in both property and use taxes with the possibility of increased sales tax during construction.
Three school districts – Maysville, Osborn and Stewartsville – would be the primary beneficiaries of substantial additional tax revenue.
It could be funding in a positive way, said Jay Albright, Stewartsville’s new superintendent. There hasn’t been a lot of new construction within the school district so if it happens it would have a pretty big impact, he said.
The Union Star School District anticipates its 2016 wind revenue will be about $700,000.
Like a lot of rural school districts, Stewartsville only has one school with about 200 students. Keeping up with new technology is a costly proposition.
NextEra Energy stopped in to visit with the new superintendent this summer.
“We talked about our need to update laptops and the cost effectiveness of Chromebooks,” Mr. Albright said. “The company agreed to contribute $1,600 for the project.”
A former school board member Bill Saunders said voters have always supported the school and the outside money isn’t needed.
But the company maintains it wants to be a good citizen, too.
“Once we’re (operational), we will look at options to support local schools and communities above and beyond the tax dollars coming in,” Mr. Stengel said.