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Pubic input at Aug. 30 wind energy meeting

A public meeting, sponsored by the VFW and the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce, was held on Tuesday, Aug. 30, giving landowners, residents and other interested parties a chance to voice concerns and talk about the positive side of wind energy.

Dennis Mandsager, a member of the VFW opened the meeting with introductions of the evenings speakers which included Joe Neary, Palo Alto County Zoning Administrator, Dan Lutat, Director of Sustainable Energy Resources and Technologies Program at Iowa Lakes Community College, as well as representatives from Invenergy, MidAmerican Energy and RES Americas.

“The chamber ordinarily does not get involved in issues, however, when I took this topic to the Chamber Board, it was felt that this is an economic development issue for the Chamber and one that we should be involved in,” Chamber Director Deb Hite said.

Palo Alto County Planning and Zoning Administrator Joe Neary gave an overview of the Wind Energy Ordinance that was approved and sent to the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors for consideration and acceptance. According to Neary, Palo Alto adopted zoning in 1995 and really didn’t cover wind turbine at that time.

“When Mid American Energy replaced a line in the north are a of the county, it was a consensus of the many Boards in the County that a better ordinance needed to be adopted to control the zoning of wind farms. This has been an ongoing process since last year,” Neary said.” It has not been easy and we have tried to cover all issues that may arise.”

Continuing, Neary informed the general public that the Planning and Zoning Commission had adopted an ordinance that was sent to the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors for review.

“The Supervisors are the final authority on an ordinance and they have been in talks with the two energy companies and have made some slight changes in setbacks,” Neary said.

Neary also made mention the economic value that would come to our county from taxes that would be generated by the wind farms. According to estimated projections made by Lois Naig, Palo Alto County Assessor at the end of the seventh year the taxes on 75 towers would be $1.8 million (total taxation).

Dan Lutat, Director of Sustainable Energy Resources and Technologies Programs at Iowa Lakes Community College began by telling those in attendance that they should be proud of what we are about to step into and we will be leaving a legacy for our children and grandchildren.

“It’s a generational thing. This is something that your kids and grandkids will be working on for years to come,” Lutat said.

Lutat went on to say that he looks at this from an educator’s view, wanting to turnout students that are educated in the areas we are discussing tonight so that they will look at northwest Iowa as a place stay, work and raise a family. Wind energy is recession proof. Each site is going to need people to work at the site.

“The bottom line from my perspective is that you have done something that is sustainable. It is good for the country. It’s a bridge technology to get farther down the road,” Lutat said. “We are about 200 years away from the next best solution in energy. In order to get there wind energy is important in combination with all other energy sources.”

Representatives of Invenergy, MidAmerican Energy and RES Americas presented their positive looks at wind energy and answered some questions that had not been answered prior to the evening’s event.

Dani Spangler, Project Development Manager took on the question of why Palo Alto County.

“From Invenergy’s perspective Palo Alto County met three criteria that we look for: it is an excellent wind resource, there is access to the electrical grid and there is plenty of undeveloped land,” Spangler began.

Invenergy is currently working in the Northeast corner of Palo Alto County. They are looking at 60,000-acre area to locate about 170 wind turbines. A lot of planning goes in a project area as well as many environmental studies.

“By the end of the seventh year the project would be expected to provide $3.8 million per year in taxes and by year 25 this would add up to about $84 million,” Spangler said. “In addition you are looking at about 200 construction jobs with 10 to 15 permanent jobs once construction is complete. Along with the constriction jobs you are looking at housing, food, transportation and entertainment for these employees during the duration of the project.”

Adam Jablowski, Project Manager, Renewable Energy for MidAmerican Energy discussed the many wind farm projects MidAmerican is involved in throughout the state. He also touched on the transmission line that has gone through the northern part of the county.

This transmission line brought up some issues that have local landowners concerned with wind turbines – mainly crop damage and tile damage, with some stating that they are still waiting for a call back regarding damage payments. Jablowski could not directly comment on these issues as he was not involved in the project, but he did promise to look into the various issues and get back to people with some answers.

Matt Boys, Project Manager from RES Americas was the last to speak.

“Something unique to wind energy is that not only do these wind farms compete with others in the state, they are also competing with other wind farms in the region,” Boys said.

According to Boys, a feasibility study for a wind farm can take from two to ten years depending on the geographical location and other factors involved. Studying just the wind takes one year to get complete information.

RES Americas is required to go through the same environmental studies as other wind developers. This includes studies to satisfy U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It is possible that one small thing could halt the project is endangered species are more susceptible in the wind farm area.

Many voiced their opinions and concerns during the meeting and most questions were answered that arose. The Wind Ordinance for Palo Alto County is now in the hands of the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors for final approval.