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Summer breeze: County signs off on wind farm

For the second time in less than three months, an alternative energy company has announced its intention to bring more wind energy development to Nodaway County.

In late March, Tenaska, a privately owned energy firm based in Omaha, Nebraska, announced that it was considering construction of what would be the county’s second, or maybe now its third, wind farm across an area stretching north of Maryville to the Iowa line.

Now another company, Lenexa, Kansas-based Tradewind Energy, says it wants to construct a 238-megawatt operation extending west and southwest from the county seat.

Unlike the Tenaska proposal, the Tradewind project has been given a green light by both the Nodaway County Enhanced Enterprise Zone board and the County Commission, which signed an agreement authorizing the project on Friday morning.

Tradewind Development Manager Reed Bartels spoke before the commission Friday along with Nodaway County Economic Development Executive Director Josh McKim, who hailed the enterprise as “a great project” that will generate significant tax revenue along with a handful of well-paying jobs.

Wind energy is a desirable industry in rural northwest Missouri, McKim said, because, after initial construction, the giant turbines have relatively little effect on local resources and infrastructure.

“They produce a fairly low impact for a significant return,” said McKim, who noted that the Tradewind project is expected to create between two and 10 permanent positions paying at least $50,000 a year in addition to about 300 construction jobs during a turbine installation phase lasting a year or more.

While those workers will likely come from elsewhere, they would spend months in the Maryville area, staying in local hotels and eating in local restaurants.

On other fronts, Bartels said leases with landowners are in place, but construction is unlikely to begin until 2018 and perhaps as late as 2020.

Gaining approval from the EEZ board and the county, he said, was “just another box checked off” in a complex process embracing project design, engineering and environmental studies.

Bartels declined to disclose how much landowners will be paid for allowing turbines to be constructed on their land, but he did say minimum annual payments will be augmented in cases where energy production exceeds estimates.

Another unknown is the number of turbines, since Tradewind has yet to select the size of the machines to be installed.

Most commercial turbines these days are rated somewhere between two and three-and-a-half megawatts, meaning they can generate 2 million to 3.5 million watts per hour when the wind is blowing hard enough to achieve peak efficiency.

Therefore a 238-megawatt wind farm, as proposed by Tradewind, would consist of about 80 three-megawatt turbines. An equivalent installation with two-megawatt turbines would require approximately 120 machines.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a 2-megawatt turbine generates enough electricity to power 400 single-family homes for a year.

Operational since early 2008, the county’s sole existing wind farm, developed by Wind Capital Group, consists of 24 turbines near the small towns of Conception, Conception Junction and Clyde rated at a total of 50 megawatts.

Wind energy, like other forms of economic development, has generated controversy in northwest Missouri due to the industry’s insistence on tax breaks.

In a geographically expansive county like Nodaway the issue is complicated by the unusually large number of taxing entities, which range from municipalities and schools to townships and fire protection districts.

That means, without some type of regulation, an energy company would have to pay one tax rate on a wind turbine in a bean field and another rate on an identical machine a few hundred yards away in a neighboring hay pasture.

Nodaway’s Enhanced Enterprise Zone was created several years ago precisely to eliminate such variables and make it easier for firms to figure a realistic bottom line.

Within the zone, wind farm developers pay a uniform rate that, as an added inducement, is about half of what would be their unregulated property tax burden over 20 years.

But even with the discount, local taxing entities should see significant increases in revenue if the Tradewind project moves forward.

Nodaway County Assessor Rex Wallace said Friday that at the agreed upon property tax rate of $5,900 per megawatt, the Tradewind project will add approximately $1.4 million to the county’s revenue stream.