SPENCER – “It’s a new step, really,” summed up Clay County supervisor Barry Anderson, “when you look at Clay County.” Anderson and the other supervisors listened last week to two wind energy project developers describe a new wind farm project being proposed that originates in O’Brien County.
Clay County Board Chair Linda Swanson welcomed Apex Clean Energy Senior Development Manager Brenna Gunderson and Development Manager Holly McCoy to the Board’s regular meeting. Clay County currently has one utility-scale wind turbine producing power located near the southeast corner.
Gunderson handed out folders and a brochure explaining who Apex was and the scope of the wind energy project they’ve begun developing. “The brochure also lists some of the economic benefits that we’ve outlined,” Gunderson said. “Apex is based in Charlottesville, VA.”
Gunderson continued,”One of the reasons we’re looking in Clay County is there’s a lot of wind here in Clay County that’s kind of on the edge of that Buffalo Ridge area. Also, what we need is available transmission.”
Gunderson went into some detail about where they’re looking to connect the wind farm onto the high voltage power grid. A preliminary map she passed around showed where the new MidAmerican Energy Company (MEC) 345,000 volt (kV) power line is now being built across the northern part of Clay County.
“This would be the new power line where they’re putting poles up now,” said supervisor Del Brockshus .”It comes from the new transfer substation between Hartley and Sanborn.”
“Are you primarily working with MEC for this then?” asked Swanson.
“No, we are not. We are a private company. We’re just developing a wind farm project,”Gunderson answered.
“But, you would be connecting the project on to it?” Swanson questioned.
“We’d be connecting to it. So, in the sense of connecting it, we do have to go through a study process in order to interconnect onto that line. We do that not only with ITC Midwest and MEC, but ate also with MISO which is the Mid-continent Independent System Operator. We are now in the process of going through that study period, ” said Gunderson.
The map she’d passed around showed the area where the wind farm would be located. “We started targeting a specific area by just meeting with the larger landowners in that area just to gauge their interest,” Gunderson explained.
Via an earlier email reply to questions about Apex’s Upland Prairie Wind Project, Apex said they were primarily looking at Waterford, Lone Tree, Clay and Peterson Townships along the county’s west side for wind energy development.
Gunderson continued, “So, this is a participation only project. We are looking at a 300 megawatt (MW) project.”
How many wind turbines was the next question asked.
“We don’t know yet, but I can give you a range of from 130 to 150. It depends on the size of the wind turbines. So, it’s a large-scale project,” she noted.
“We’d need to go into long-term wind energy leases with those landowners before we can do any work on their property. There would be payments associated with that.
We would also pay property taxes to Clay County, if you’re familiar with the special assessment that wind projects go through. We’re looking at this wind farm bringing somewhere around $53 million over the life of the wind farm back to Clay County,” explained Gunderson.
When asked the length of the leases, Gunderson replied, “The lease, itself, is for a period of 30 years. Turbines, nowadays, they probably have a 20 to 25 – year life span. The lease can be extended up to 50 years. What may happen is the turbine could be retrofitted later on in order to give them a longer operating life span.”
Former state highway patrolman, now supervisor, Joe Scow said, “Ten years ago, when I first ran for a seat on the Board, one question I always heard was:’What is Clay County doing that’s inhibiting wind energy projects?’ I replied that I didn’t know, but I’d check into it. Obviously, we did nothing.”
“Then two years ago,” Scow continued,” I got a call from a person living in Chicago who owns a fair amount of property in the northwest part of the county. He’d been working in the corporate world, and he said “I’d encourage you and the Board to do everything possible to bring wind energy to Clay County. That’s my retirement program. ‘
“I thought, Oh wow! I wondered how much land he owned. So, I looked it up and he does have enough land up there that he could have a retirement program.”
Brochshus asked, “What’s your timeline and what role do we play?”
“We are looking at a potential 2018 start-up for commercial operation. That’s contingent on many things. The one reason for that is it could take up to two years for the power line that we want to interconnect with to be completed,” replied Gunderson.
Gunderson added that it was unclear right now where the wind farm substation would be located. The underground cables from the wind turbines would go to that substation.
When Swanson asked if the wind farm electricity created here would be used in this area, Gunderson explained, “The energy will actually be put onto the line. So, where the energy from that line is needed from that line is where it’ll go. Typically, it’s pushed to where it is needed first. As it’s carried further away from its generation source, it’s going to have less power.
However, who’d potentially purchase the power from this project is currently unknown. We’d need to get a little further along in the development before we are going to attract any potential buyers. Even though the line is MidAmerican Energy’s, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they would be the final purchaser of power.”
Supervisor Barry Anderson wanted to know what the approximate cost was for building a turbine site. Gunderson responded, “Maybe the average cost for the foundations and everything else related to a site would be somewhere over $2.5 million.
The landowner would get a minimum lease payment offer and they would be offered a royalty. So, whichever is greater each year is what the landowner would receive,” said Gunderson.
“How many landowner easements would Apex need in order for this project to go ahead?” asked Brockshus.
“That’s a really good question and it’s hard to answer. Because of the parcel sizes, you need contiguous acres of land put together for the underground collection system cables to connect between turbine sites. So, we’ll have to see who wants to participate,” Gunderson explained. She said earlier this is a 32,000 acre project.
When supervisor Burlin Matthews asked if Apex had read the Clay County zoning regulations and had any questions or concerns, Gunderson firmly answered, “Yes. It does look okay. We are also planning to meet with the Planning Commission and the Clay County Board of Adjustment on Dec. 7.
We would like to set up a temporary meteorological tower that we’d use for our purposes to collect data on wind direction and wind speeds. If approved, we’d set that up as soon as possible. In an area this size, we might eventually put up 3 or more MET towers later on before we would actually go into construction.”
” I have some land over in the Gillett Grove area,” Anderson said, invitingly. “Maybe you can get over to my ground. There are turbines just over east in Palo Alto County.'”
“That’s right. We’ll see if this area takes an interest, then great. If not, then we’ll keep looking,” Gunderson concluded.
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