PAXTON – Two citizens who have spoken out against wind farms in Illinois in recent years told the Ford County Board on Monday that the board should not let a developer “dictate the terms” for the decommissioning of turbines in the proposed Kelly Creek Wind Farm in northern Ford County.
Jon Baker, project developer for San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy, told the board last month that he was in negotiations with the county’s zoning enforcement officer, Matt Rock, regarding the terms of a “decommissioning plan” that would spell out the conditions required of his company if it abandons the wind farm project and the turbines end up needing to be removed.
The decommissioning plan calls for financial assurances, Baker said. However, Baker said he had been in discussions with Rock about the possibility of changing the financial security required of his company.
In exchange for a “lesser form” of financial security – possibly a “parent guarantee” – Baker said his company may consider paying “higher permit fees” to the county. Baker noted that during the first 10 years of the wind farm, his company would be eligible to receive a production tax credit (PTC) from the federal government that would make it unlikely that the project would be abandoned.
Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts and her mother, Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley, spoke out against such an idea Monday night, with Ann Ihrke calling it “utterly ridiculous” and “definitely not in the best interests of the taxpayers of this county” to “delay the decommissioning security and not comply with the Ford County wind ordinance.”
“Are you going to let Mr. Baker and his company dictate the terms for decommissioning without doing your due diligence and finding the facts concerning the total costs of decommissioning yourselves?” Ann Ihrke asked the board. “This is not a game. Surely Mr. Baker is speaking for the county’s best interests. Or, is he hoping his company will make their millions from the PTC up front and not care if we, the Ford County taxpayers, are again left holding the bag? Let the developer and the bonding companies assume the cost risk – not the community and the taxpayers.”
Added Cindy Ihrke: “I didn’t think the members of this board were elected to gamble with the taxpayers’ money. Over the next 10 years, you are banking on the fact that this EDF Renewables company, or the company that their facility will be sold to, will not go bankrupt and that the PTC will remain as it currently stands.
“Over the last few years, a minimum of 17 renewable energy companies have gone bankrupt and more are in the process of filing Chapter 11. … What makes you all think this can’t happen to this or any other wind company you do business with?
“The PTC subsidy is not a guarantee,” she added. “Depending on the election results in November, the PTC as written could very well be changed or ended. After a deal to extend the tax credit failed in 2012 the industry itself warned that there would be massive layoffs and stalled or abandoned projects.
“Mr. Baker and the Kelly Creek Wind Farm should follow the ordinance as written. If they cannot afford to follow the laws as written, then perhaps you should question why and not go into business with an unstable partner. … This is not your money to gamble and take risks with – with dollar signs in your eyes.”
The Ihrkes’ comments drew a response from one board member, Tom McQuinn of rural Paxton. McQuinn first said he took offense to how the Ihrkes “attacked the board” when they “really don’t know what our stance is,” but McQuinn then prompted a “thank you” from the Ihrkes when he said that he “personally” is “not willing to change the (wind) ordinances at all.”
“The way it was done for the first windmill companies is the way it ought to stay,” McQuinn said.
McQuinn said that regardless of his personal feelings, however, EDF Renewables has a right to at least ask the board for the decommissioning requirements to be changed.
“I don’t blame you for questioning it,” McQuinn told the Ihrkes, “but they have the right to ask, and we have the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or whatever.”
Baker, responding to the Ihrkes’ comments, said that it would be up to the board how to move forward on the decommissioning requirements, noting that his company is committed to the project regardless of whether the board accepts his proposal or instead wants his company to abide by the specific requirements outlined in the wind ordinance.
Baker noted that the proposal was “merely brought up as a way to potentially share some of the cost savings that would be realized during those initial 10 years when the project is at its lowest risk (due to the presence of the PTC).” Baker stressed that EDF was never “looking for any sort of exemption from the requirements,” adding that his company would still be “obligated” to provide financial security, “just in a slightly different form than is discussed in the ordinance.”
“I don’t want this to be stated that somehow we are saying ‘we need this or the project can’t move forward’ or ‘it’s something essential,’” Baker said. “Merely it was brought up as a way that both sides could benefit. But certainly if there are reservations I’m happy to answer any questions around those reservations, or certainly it’s something the board could choose to set aside and table for a period of time.”
If the county needs more time to review the proposal, Baker said, “EDF is happy to just move forward with the original terms of the agreement and post the decommissioning as discussed in the most recent decommissioning report that I’ve already provided to county staff.
“And if the issue needs to be revisited at a future point, we’d be happy to discuss that,” Baker continued. “Of course, some of the savings might be a little lower, and we’d have to go back and revisit how much upside there is to share.
“But, again, that’s something I’m happy to discuss with county staff and follow the recommendations of the board on the best way to proceed on this issue.”
Baker said a proposed decommissioning plan was prepared last week by an independent engineer, and he asked the board to review it. Baker said the decommissioning plan “updates the report that had been submitted in April 2015.”
“The dollars in there are, we feel, in line with what the decommissioning costs would be, and we’d be happy to share that with county staff for their review,” he told the board.
County Board Chairman Randy Berger of Gibson City told Baker that he and county officials would be “happy to review the information you have.” Berger suggested that Baker submit the paperwork to county staff for their review, and then county staff could pass along their thoughts to the board.
Construction of the Kelly Creek Wind Farm is expected to begin this spring. The 184-megawatt wind farm is expected to feature 92 2-megawatt wind turbines, with about 60 to 65 of those turbines being located in Ford County and the remainder in Kankakee County, Baker said.
The wind farm will be in Rogers Township in the Kempton area in northern Ford County and in Norton Township in neighboring Kankakee County. It will be Phase II of the 175-megawatt Pilot Hill Wind Farm, which features 61 turbines in Kankakee County and 42 in Iroquois County.
EDF Renewable Energy is developing the Kelly Creek Wind Farm with Oakland, Calif.-based Orion Energy Group LLC and Cincinnati, Ohio-based Vision Energy LLC. The developers still need to obtain building permits – and pay Ford County a building-permit fee of $5,000 per wind turbine – and finalize a road-use agreement with Rogers Township and Ford County before construction can begin.
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