PAXTON – Ford County Board members raised concerns Monday night about some language contained in a proposed escrow agreement between the county and the co-developer of a wind farm planned for portions of northern Ford and southern Kankakee counties.
In his chairman’s report, Chairman Randy Berger said he met recently with board member Chase McCall to review the contract, and they found “a couple of things” they were “not comfortable with.”
“If we sign the agreement, as far as I can tell, we don’t have any recourse” if the developer defaults on the terms, Berger said.
“We’d waive (the developer’s) liability – that’s how I read it,” McCall said.
Jon Baker, project developer for San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy, which is developing the Kelly Creek Wind Farm, said the proposed agreement was provided by PNC Bank, the same financial institution that served as the escrow agent for EDF’s recently built Pilot Hill Wind Farm in Iroquois and Kankakee counties.
Baker said Kankakee County’s attorney also recommended some changes in its own separate escrow agreement with EDF for the Kelly Creek Wind Farm, and those changes are reflected in the proposed contract provided to Ford County.
The contract calls for the developers of the wind farm to provide financial security to Ford County to cover the county’s portion of the $8.7 million in repairs and improvements to public roads that will be used to build the wind farm in both counties. Specifically, Baker said, it provides Ford County with a $2.7 million bond – equal to 50 percent of the proposed road-upgrade costs in Ford County.
Baker said there is also a separate form of security that is required to be provided, equal to 125 percent of the total costs. That brings the total amount of security, with the escrow bond included, to 175 percent of the road-upgrade costs, Baker said.
Baker said EDF would be “happy to make our escrow agent available” to Ford County officials to “work out any language” to “make everyone comfortable.” Baker said he would prefer to put the escrow agent in contact to “whoever has the final authority” to sign off on the agreement. That person would be Berger, who was given authorization by the board earlier this year to sign the agreement without further board approval.
Berger and other board members, meanwhile, said they first wanted to have an opportunity to have Ford County State’s Attorney Randy Yedinak review the language in the contract. Berger said Yedinak had not looked at the document yet. The board made plans to have Berger meet with Yedinak later this week to get that done, and then have Berger sign the contract if Yedinak is comfortable with it.
“If our legal counsel’s happy with it, I guess we’d be happy with it,” Berger said.
“We just have to make sure we’re covered … before we go forward,” McCall said. “We don’t mean to pause this operation (of building the wind farm), but we want to do it right.”
Baker, meanwhile, asked the board if it would be willing – before signing the escrow agreement – to authorize Matt Rock, the county’s zoning enforcement officer, to immediately release a “very limited number” of the 66 building permits required for Ford County’s portion of the wind farm, which would prevent any delays in the project. Baker suggested the board allow Rock to release 15 of the permits and release the rest later, once the escrow agreement is done.
“That would buy us about two or three weeks for additional excavation work,” Baker said.
Baker said Rock has indicated he is ready to issue 65 of the 66 building permits, but Rock is waiting on the finalization of the escrow agreement before that can happen. Baker said a $330,000 check – reflecting payment of a $5,000 building permit fee for each turbine – has already been provided to Rock’s office.
Some board members balked at Baker’s suggestion of issuing some of the permits immediately.
“If you’re in such a big hurry, would you be willing to strike some of this verbage that we don’t like in the contract right now?” board member Tim Nuss asked. “Would you be willing to do that tonight?”
“Yeah, then you’d get your permits,” board member Randy Ferguson added. “How you like those apples?”
After some additional discussion, the board agreed to withhold the issuance of any permits until after the escrow agreement is reviewed by Yedinak and signed by Berger.
“We can have it on (Yedinak’s) desk in the morning,” Berger said.
Baker said the delivery of turbines for the wind farm is expected to begin July 18.
The 184-megawatt wind farm is expected to feature 92 2-megawatt wind turbines. EDF Renewable Energy is developing the wind farm with Oakland, Calif.-based Orion Energy Group LLC and Cincinnati, Ohio-based Vision Energy LLC. The developers have a deadline of Nov. 11, 2016, to start building the wind farm, as required by the project’s special-use permit.
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