Developments related to two different wind farms topped the O’Brien County supervisor’s agenda at the Board’s first meeting of 2016 when officials from wind energy firms Invenergy and Apex Wind Energy attended the meeting.
Invenergy’s Business Development Associate Dani Zimmerman had submitted a request to the Board to relocate 9 of the 104 turbine sites in the 250 megawatt (MW) O’Brien Wind Energy Project. The original building permit was issued on Aug. 18, 2015 with 104 turbine sites and 7 alternate sites for a total of 111 permitted turbine locations.
Invenergy’s request required this Jan. 4th public hearing to amend the construction permit approved for the MidAmerican Energy Company (MEC) project that’s scheduled to start construction early this spring. Work on the substation is under way.
Newly elected 2016 Board Chair Nancy McDowell opened the hearing and asked Zimmerman to step up to a map and show which of the 9 turbines sites would be moved and their new location. Also present were 5 landowners and one tenant living near the turbine sites in question.
Zimmerman said that these relocations were mostly to accommodate landowner requests and to ensure the construction of an electrically efficient wind farm layout. The 34.5 kV underground collection cables must run from turbine to turbine and then back to the wind farm substation site NE of Sanborn.
Other reasons for relocating a turbine site can be due to micro-siting issues like geotechnical studies that show the ground is unsuitable to support heavy weights, engineering/design considerations or real estate ownership problems.
McDowell then asked those landowners or tenants present to express their concerns or ask any questions of Invenergy or the Board. A landowner and his wife living west of Sanborn said they now would have 5 turbine sites within view of the bay window of their home.
He claimed the turbines would affect the property value of their land. They have lived there for 40 years. The red light on top of the turbines flashing into their living room at night was also their concern.
She spoke about the noise from the turbine sites that would be located 1,200 feet or further from their property. She said she was a light sleeper. “We don’t like the noise and the hustle and bustle that will come,” she said.
A tenant from Lincoln Township east of Sanborn expressed concerns about the letter he’d received from Invenergy. The letter was simply notifying him of the pending turbine site relocation from its originally permitted location.
Zimmerman said the notification requirement of the county’s wind ordinance required that any landowner property line within a 1,000′ of the turbine in question must be notified. In this case, she said the turbine was being moved 400′.
The tenant also said he didn’t want to look at 3 turbine sites from the bay window of his home. He complained that it was only the five people that set on the Board of Supervisors that decide these matters. He then claimed that the wind farm wouldn’t bring in as much property tax revenue as what the County was expecting.
“If we don’t do this and build these wind farms and bring in that property tax revenue to the County, then your property tax rates will go up,” replied supervisor Tom Farnsworth.
The first landowner’s wife argued, “I’d rather see my property taxes go up then to see these wind turbines.”
“You may be the only one,” replied Farnsworth. I don’t think a majority do, he added.
Another Franklin Township landowner said, “I’m all for clean energy and I’m also for homeowner respect. When they locate towers like this, they need to make sure to locate them away from other property owners. As far as property values, there have been enough wind mills around for many years. Is it a proven fact that property values will go down?”
Zimmerman replied, “That’s obviously a question that we get a lot. There’ve been a lot of studies done about residential property values across the U. S. I’d be happy to forward some of these reports to the Board so that you have them to answer questions. But, it’s been studied in detail.”
Who decides if Invenergy will be allowed to move these nine turbines?
“That’s what we’re here for today,” said supervisor Jim DeBoom. “Invenergy is saying they want to move these 9 turbine sites.”
“And for us to say ‘no’ right now; they are well within their rights and everything we’ve set up in Ordinance #22 to do what they are doing today. We’d be hard pressed to say ‘no’ to that because they’ve followed every bit of criteria we asked them to follow,” said Friedrichsen.
After one more attempt to assure those present that Invenergy was doing everything in accordance with the County’s Ordinance, McDowell called for the vote on amending the Construction Permit to allow for moving the 9 turbines in question. The vote was unanimous to allow these 9 sites to be relocated.
The Board then moved on to discuss yet another proposed wind farm. Apex Clean Energy requested to meet with the Board to explain their 300 MW, possibly 150-turbine Upland Prairie Wind Project. Apex Development Manager Holly McCoy advised the supervisors that turbine sites could now appear in far northeastern O’Brien County.
The boundary for Apex’s 32,000 acre wind farm was initially planned to be entirely within Clay County. As Apex project developers started talking to west central Clay County landowners and landowners further west about signing wind turbine lease agreements, it became apparent that the boundary might need to be shifted west into O’Brien County.
McCoy said their initial study area in west central Clay County didn’t show enough interest. She said their focus has now shifted further north into western Clay County and west into northeastern O’Brien County.
Apex had a local office in Royal. “We are changing our local office location to Everly. We found a location there and it’ll be a little more convenient to meet with landowners. We are here today to let you know that Apex is here and we’re going to be meeting with landowners and see what interest there may be.
The way we develop a project is to talk to the larger landowners first to gauge their interest. There isn’t any real use to pulling in the smaller landowners until we know whether those larger landowners have an interest in participating. If they are not, then we do not want to force ourselves on them. We’ve had some good receptions from that area further north,” McCoy reported.
“Where would you connect the wind farm onto the electric grid?” asked Farnsworth.
McCoy replied, “We plan to connect onto that new MidAmerican Energy line that they are building now.”
“So where would your wind farm interconnection substation be located,” Farnsworth asked.
“It’ll probably be located north of Everly,” indicated McCoy. “That power line goes right through this area. If this area further north does work out, we’d be close to that transmission line.”
McCoy had presented the supervisors with a map earlier that showed where their initial study area was in west central Clay County and where their focus was now further north and west of that initial area.
“One thing I look at on this map is that most of the wind farm will be in Clay County, Farnsworth noted. “Clay County is zoned. How does that work out when we have wind ordinances here in O’Brien County and Clay County has zoning?”
“Yes. We dealt with that same situation at the Pioneer Prairie Project that I did. We just have to make sure we’re adhering to each county’s ordinances. If Clay County has something different than what O’Brien County has, we need to make sure that sitting turbines in each of them is appropriate,” McCoy explained.
When McCoy was shown a map of the new high voltage power line network that is currently under construction across northern Iowa, she was asked if Apex would be developing and building more future wind farms along these new transmission lines.
McCoy replied, “Potentially, yes, if there’s enough capacity on those new power lines to add more wind energy. We’ll be holding open houses and be reaching out to others in close proximity to where we are looking. We are looking for input from landowners and willing to have those conversations with everyone.”