Cumberland County Attorney Randal Boston updated the Cumberland County Commission on its authority and obligation in regard to the proposed wind farm in the Crab Orchard area.
“We have no authority. We have no ability. We have no dog in that race, for lack of a perfect term,” Boston told commissioners at the May 16 meeting. “There is nothing this body can do. That’s their property. It’s private property. If they want to enter into a lease with a company, we can’t do anything about it. We just don’t have any authority to do so.”
Harry Snyder, lead developer for Apex Clean Energy, the Virginia-based company developing the 71 megawatt project in the area of Millstone Mountain in Crab Orchard, addressed the commission during the public comments section of the meeting.
“We develop, we build and we operate wind energy facilities,” Snyder said. “We’re also still here when those turbines are spinning.”
He explained the project has proposed 20 to 23 turbines. It’s still in the early investigation stage, though the company has completed wind investigations, some environmental work, and leased about 7,000 acres of private land.
The project was acquired from BP Wind Energy, a division of BP, in 2014.
“We knew that the wind on that mountain was very strong,” Snyder said. “We consider it to be one of the strongest developable wind resources in the state of Tennessee. We have a pretty good idea what the wind is doing up on that mountain.”
Preliminary studies have shown the power can be injected into the current power grid without negative impacts on infrastructure in place.
“It’s a pretty good project. A lot of projects, you can’t check all those boxes,” Snyder said.
The project would represent an investment of about $130 million in Cumberland County, and add about $362,000 in tax revenue to the county coffers without need for additional schools or roads, Snyder said. In addition, a study by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee has estimated the construction phase of the project would create 111 jobs, about half of which would be filled by people from Cumberland or surrounding counties, and provide a $27.3 million economic impact. Once complete, the project would have seven permanent jobs and an annual $1.4 million economic impact.
Sandra Baxter Dutcher, 9th District commissioner, questioned the profitability of wind energy without government subsidies on the production of the energy.
“If those tax breaks go away, much like in solar, a huge amount of bankruptcies go on and we’re left with the wreckage,” Ducther said. “Is there anyway you can promise us contractually you will mitigate that kind of event?”
Snyder noted the tax credit for wind is different than the solar energy tax credits. Wind credits are on the actual production of energy while solar received a 30 percent subsidy based on the installation cost.
“The wind farm is built solely on private money and there is a tax credit based on production. We’re incentivized to have a high production wind farm to achieve more of those tax credits,” Snyder said.
Those revenues are modeled in economic feasibility studies. He noted all forms of electricity in the United States receive government subsidies. When the wind and solar tax credits of 2012 expired, those were the only forms of electric generation that were unsubsidized. Revenue models project energy production for 25 to 30 years.
“After that time, there is a clause in the lease with our landowners that states we must remove all wind energy facilities from their property,” Snyder said. “It also requires we place a bond for the difference between the salvage value of the wind farm and removal cost for 15 years. The land owners are insured.”
Dutcher asked what happened to those lease agreements if the company sold the lease to another company in a few years.
Snyder reiterated Apex develops, constructs and operates wind farm facilities. They do seek outside financiers to provide funding for the project.
“But, the lease terms we negotiate with landowners are binding throughout the life of the project,” Snyder said.
Wendell Wilson, 6th District commissioner, asked about noise from turbines, a concern raised by residents at the April commission meeting.
Snyder said the company evaluates noise impact on homes, with a company-imposed limit of 40 decibels in any home – about the level of sound produced by a home HVAC unit. There are only two homes within the project site of 1,800 acres.
“As you move further out to Fairfield Glade – 1,000 feet up is where you have those 40 decibels – I think the closet part is two miles. The decibel impact in those areas would be considerably smaller than our internal standards for decibel impact,” Snyder said.
Wilson also questioned the aesthetics of wind turbines, which some residents have said would be unsightly. Snyder noted aesthetics is a subjective issue where some people like the look of wind turbines while others do not.
However, the company has performed visual impact analysis that will be shared with the community June 1, with public meetings set in Crab Orchard and Fairfield Glade.
“We picked points throughout Crab Orchard, Fairfield and throughout Cumberland County, to show the visual impact,” Snyder said.
During the business portion of the meeting, the commission approved the following budget amendments:
•Increasing revenue from donations for the Art Circle Public Library by $185 and increasing expenditures by the same amount in other charges. David Gibson, 4th District commissioner, moved to approve the budget resolution, supported by Tim Claflin, 8th District commissioner. It was unanimously approved.
•Increasing revenue for donations for the Cumberland County Archives and Family Heritage Center $200 and increasing expenditures by the same amount. David Hassler, 3rd District commissioner, moved to approve. The motion was supported by Sonya Rimmer, 8th District commissioner, and unanimously approved.
•Decreasing expenditures in part-time personnel for the Cumberland County Election Commission by $3,000 and decreasing expenditures for election workers by $3,600 and increasing expenditures for maintenance and repair $6,600. Funds will be used to replace carpet in the office. The motion was unanimously approved following a motion by Rimmer, supported by Claflin.
The commission also unanimously approved a resolution to extend its contract with the state’s Department of Mental Health by one year following a motion by Terry Carter, 6th District commissioner, and supported by Claflin.
The commission also approved a license agreement between the county and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The resolution was unanimously approved following a motion by Rimmer, supported by Claflin.
In other business, the Cumberland County Beer Board approved an on-remises permit for the Catholic Social Club of Cumberland County, 2892 Hwy. 70 E. The permit is simply a name change for what has been the Knights of Columbus grounds.