The process of adopting the new Wind Energy Conversion Systems Ordinance for Palo Alto County took place during the regular meeting of the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, September 13.
Representatives from Invenergy, RES Americas and MidAmerican Energy as well as 37 residents and landowners in the county packed the courtroom of the Palo Alto County Courthouse to listen and weigh in during the first reading of the Wind Energy Ordinance.
Supervisor Chairman Linus Solberg opened the meeting welcoming everyone and saying that if anyone would like to say anything, they would be given two minutes.
“In our family, whenever we had a business decision to make that would affect us for many years, I always ask ‘Is it going to make a difference in ten years?’ ” Solberg began. “We are trying to put together a wind ordinance that will make a difference in 10 years, so we want to try and get it right.”
“During our council meeting last night, the council expressed some concerns about setback or some way of keeping them from being real close to town,” Jim Gehrt, Mayor of Mallard said. “The main question was “Is this in the best interest of Palo Alto County?” I do not come with a resolution but I wanted to share their feelings.”
“At our last council meeting the City of Ruthven passed Resolution 44-2016, giving their support to the Palo Alto County Supervisors,” David Kirk, Mayor of Ruthven started. “Basically, the City of Ruthven will support the Supervisors with the setbacks they set. Our TIF (tax increment financing) allows us to go two miles out and we would hope that the city would have some input if a wind turbine would be closer. We feel that our Supervisors have done their due diligence and have had some tough decisions to make.”
The Mayors of Ruthven and Mallard were the only representatives from other communities in the county present at the first reading of the WECS Ordinance. Palo Alto County Economic Development Executive Director Maureen Elbert was also on hand but declined to comment.
Dave Nixon started the rest of the comments by saying that he was advocating the new technology and economic development for Palo Alto County. Being in broadcasting, he learned to adapt as new technology became available and with it new jobs.
“My concern is for the future and the economic development for everyone in the county including the farmers,” Nixon said. I commend the Supervisors for due diligence with this project to find something that everyone can live with and that will be good for our future,” Nixon said.
“Speaking as a citizen, I live in Minneapolis and I would like to thank the people of Iowa and Palo Alto County for the great products you produce,” Matt Boys, Development Manager with RES Americas commented. “From the business perspective, your county has the longest setbacks in the state which shows that you are trying to protect the rights of those who are not participating.”
MidAmerican representative Brady Evans, Project Manager, Renewable Energy made reference to the final approval by the Iowa Utilities Board for Mid American’s Project XI.
“Project XI will add and additional 1,000 turbines (equal to 2,000 MW) at a development cost of $3.6 billion,” Evans said. “This is the largest wind project MidAmerican has ever done and is the largest economic development project in the state’s history. The 1,500-foot setback is the strictest in the state making our project in Palo Alto County the most expensive in the state also. MidAmerican is committed to building in Iowa, so the cost is worth it for us.”
Dani Spangler, Manager, Project Development and representative of Invenergy mirrored what other developers said.
“We are currently working with MidAmerican Energy to reach a deal for the wind farm we are looking at building in the northeast area of the county,” Spangler said.
Local area farmer Ray Grandstaff had this to say, “I want to make sure we have a workable ordinance that developers can work with. I think Palo Alto County will benefit greatly from this and I’m talking about the 9,000 people in the county that would benefit. We need to keep in mind the businesses in the towns and bringing back these young families with good paying jobs and benefits is pretty important.”
Many other residents that commented thanked the Board of Supervisors and the Planning and Zoning Board for the due diligence, hard work and thought that went into writing a new county wind energy ordinance. Drainage tile and county roads were two issues that were mentioned more than once. With farmers being worried that tile broken by the developers will not be replaced as quickly as possible and our county roads ending up worse than they currently are. Any tile broken by the developer, it is their responsibility to fix the problem.
The Board reassured residents and landowners that with the building permit, the developer must also sign a road agreement with Secondary Roads, which lead to the responsibility for decommissioning a turbine that has not moved in one year (365 days).
“The developer is responsible to remove the turbine, all concrete and return the land to its former state,” Palo Alto County Attorney Peter Hart began explaining. “At the time of the permit filing, the developer is also required to sign a decommissioning agreement and provide financial proof the money is available for decommission in the form of a letter of credit, performance bond, decommissioning fund or a guaranty. Financial proofs, such as these, provide landowners and the County with secured funds that will remain even if the owner goes bankrupt.”
Landowners and residents kept questioning who is responsible for decommissioning if the company goes bankrupt, who will hold the Supervisors accountable, who’s responsible if the account is short funds.
Hart once again stated that developers are required to provide financial proof for decommissioning prior to any construction. Renewable energy representatives also responded saying that most decommissioning contracts contain a clause that requires the owner to hire and Iowa based engineer to review what it will cost to decommission a tower every three to five years. If the current assessment is higher than the original cost, the owner is required to add money to make up the difference.
“In my opinion, if the benefits to the landowner, then the landowner should be responsible if the owner fails to provide funds for decommissioning,” Dean Gunderson, Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board of Palo Alto County.
“Money for decommissioning is required by the ordinance to be set aside at the time the permit is applied for,” Invenergy Contractor for Business Development Mark Zacconi said. “We have to set this money aside if we want to build.”
“I say we should seize the land and sell it to pay for decommissioning,” Jana Swanson, county resident said.
“I have felt from the start we should have a 5% TIF on the tax money brought in by the turbines and then divide that between decommissioning and secondary roads,” Solberg said.
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