SPIRIT LAKE ― Apex Clean Energy and Alliant Energy are continuing to move ahead with the next step toward expanding wind production in Dickinson and Clay County. The expansion, called the Upland Prairie Project, was approved by the Iowa Utilities Board in October of 2016. Upland Prairie, along with two wind farms in Franklin County are intended to add 500 megawatts to Alliant’s energy portfolio. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2018. Brenna Gunderson, with Apex told the Dickinson County Supervisors Board the company will likely be involved with just the project’s development stages.
“Apex has been working with Alliant Energy and Alliant has signed contracts with us that they plan to take over the construction and ownership of the project once it’s developed,” Gunderson said. “So Apex is continuing the development process and, possibly as early as this fall, the project would be turned over to them, meaning Upland Prairie LLC ― all the permits, all the contracts, everything ― would go to Alliant and they would then be responsible for the project.”
Gunderson said the Dickinson County portion of the Upland Prairie Project will be within Westport and Okoboji Townships. Gunderson said an area was notched out of the plan to accommodate the Spencer Municipal Airport. Similarly, accommodations can be made for aerial crop sprayers. Gunderson said there are generally no contractual obligations to shut down turbines for the crop dusters, but companies may use a good neighbor policy.
“Alliant has been very good with working with the local aerial sprayers and they will shut turbines down as requested,” Gunderson said. “The good thing is that you’re not going to spray when it’s really windy.”
The project will add approximately 120 turbines to the landscape, 47 to 51 of which will be in Dickinson County.
“The reason for the range is that we do add some spares into our design as a plan B so to speak,” Gunderson said. “So you’ve got plan A which would be 47 turbines in Dickinson County. We’re also looking at two permanent meteorological towers as well.”
She said the company currently has temporary meteorological towers collecting data on the site.
“Those will come down during construction,” she said. “They will install these permanent ‘met’ towers and what their job is, is to make sure the wind turbines are doing what they’re supposed to do. They do not have guide wires. They are just lattice tower structures.”
The 480-foot-tall turbines will be either 2.5-megawatt models or 2.3-megawatt models. Gunderson said the turbines should add 300 megawatts to the energy grid.
“Energy gets pushed onto the grid where it’s needed,” Gunderson said. “If it’s from coal, natural gas, wind, solar it’s going onto the grid. It’s going to go where it’s needed. Alliant also has a service territory here. You can’t actually track where it goes but it’s very likely that it will be used locally to power houses and businesses and barns here.”
Gunderson estimated the project would add $12 million in property tax revenue over the projected 30-year lifespan of the project. However, she later noted the project will not pay property tax for the first year in either county. Beginning the second year, the company expects to pay 5 percent of the assessed value and the tax amount will increase to 30 percent by the seventh year. Gunderson said the project qualified for a Federal Production Tax Credit of 2.3 cents/kilowatt hour of produced energy.
Supervisor Paul Johnson asked what would happen if President Trump were to pull the tax credit.
“We’ve already qualified for it and so the existing legislation ― the existing law ― is that it will ramp down over the next four years,” Gunderson said. “It will go away in four years.”
Former Iowa Lakes Community College Board President Harold Prior said the production tax credits can only be applied for the first 10 years of wind farm operation.
Gunderson estimated the company would pay $40 million over 30 years to landowners in Dickinson and Clay County, through lease agreements, easement agreements and good neighbor agreements. She said some of the contracts are out up to 50 years.
The life expectancy for an individual turbine is projected to be 20 to 25 years. Gunderson said Apex submitted a decommissioning plan to the Dickinson County Board of Adjustment on June 28 and expects the board will make its decision during the July 24 board meeting.
“Upland Prairie would be responsible to Dickinson County, based on the ordinance that’s already in place on the decommissioning of wind turbines,” Gunderson said.
Alliant plans to repower turbines as time goes on, according to Gunderson.
“What that means is you replace the bad parts with new parts you need to keep the infrastructure there, every piece in place,” she said. “That’s the bulk of the expense of a project. Then they can continue for longer than the life of that turbine. But, should the turbine or turbines stop producing power for one year, that would trigger the decommissioning of either a single turbine or multiple turbines.”
She indicated the cost of decommissioning the turbines would fall solely on Alliant. Gunderson said some form of financial security would be arranged to cover the potential cost.
“The form of security could be in the form of a letter of credit or guaranteed bond, something that’s satisfactory to the company, but also the county,” Gunderson said. “On the 17th anniversary of the operation of the project, that security would be put in place. The amount is determined by the company hiring a professional engineering firm that is in the business of decommissioning and operating wind farms. They would determine the amount that it would cost to decommission and remove a turbine.”
She said the company would also calculate the total number of turbines, the cost of removing substations and any above ground structures owned by the project, then subtract the salvage value to determine the security amount. The power cables would be left underground, while the turbines themselves would be removed down to a depth of four feet. Access roads would be removed unless landowners prefer they not be. The land is leveled and terraced as appropriate and monitored for two years to be sure erosion control measures are in place and working.
County Supervisor Chairman Bill Leupold, said he was glad to see the concrete base for the wind turbines is 4 feet deep. Gunderson said the turbines power lines would run at the same depth, which should be below drainage tile.
“When we do damage drain tile, it is repaired at our expense,” she said. “However, if we can avoid it, we want to avoid it.”
Landowners are able to view and comment on the site plan during the process, according to Gunderson. Dickinson County Engineer Dan Eckert said photos are generally taken during the repair process for later reference if a problem arises. Apex has also submitted drafted agreements to the county engineer’s office regarding responsibility for potential road repairs during construction. This agreement will be brought to the supervisors for approval at a later date.
Supervisor Pam Jordan was pleased to see data regarding noise reduction and shadow flicker presented by Apex.
“I know that’s been one of the bugaboos,” Jordan said.
Gunderson explained Apex contracts with a third party to simulate the conditions of proposed turbine sites and uses the simulations to create mitigation plans, particularly for residents who are not participating in the project.
“At a nonparticipating (site) the sound level should be below 45 decibels, which is quite low, and the shadow flicker should be around that 30 hours a year range,” Gunderson said.
The American National Standards Institute and OSHA describe 45 decibels as being between the volume of a normal conversation and a whisper.
Leupold said graduates of Iowa Lakes Community College’s Wind Energy Program were likely to be glad the project was moving ahead.
Prior agreed, noting the economic draw the project may have.
“The job creation potential of this project is projected to be 15 full-time jobs created for the operation and maintenance of this farm,” the former college board president said. “Those jobs pay somewhere between $35,000 to $50,000 per year. They attract young people, typically school-aged kids, to the profession.”
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