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Situation remains the same; No new updates on West Fork Wind project

It’s been just over a year since Fayette County commissioners, on Oct. 18, 2016, voted uanimously to extend the economic development agreement an additional two years for a proposed wind farm project involving the county.

And, much like the situation was then, it appears to have remained the same in Fayette County regarding the progess of that project, with roughly 8 months remaining until that project – per the agreement – is supposed to commence.

The News-Examiner reached out Thursday to Bryan Garner, manager of communications for NextEra Energy Resources, seeking an update on the proposed West Fork Wind Energy Center project, a project slated to have more than 40 wind turbines constructed in Fayette County – at an investment of roughly $120 million into the county – as part of the proposed three-county project also encompassing Rush and Henry counties.

NextEra’s original economic development agreement with Fayette County, initially approved in December 2014, stipulated that the West Fork wind project would commence by the end of 2016, and be completed by the end of 2017.

The company sought an extension to that agreement a year ago, however, to take those deadlines out to July 1, 2018 for commencement of the project, and completion by the end of 2019. The extension, according to NextEra’s attorney Mary Solada, was due to the company still seeking a buyer for the electricity which would be produced by the wind farm, and it was approved unanimously by Fayette County commissioners.

A similar extension of an economic development agreement also was approved, in May of this year, by Henry County commissioners with NextEra for that county’s portion of the project.

Garner, on Thursday, told the News-Examiner the project is on track, but did not offer any more details regarding whether a purchaser had been found for the electricity to be produced, or even when wind turbines could potentially start going up. He previously, in July of this year, told the News-Examiner that the project is anticpated to come online in 2018.

Per the amended economic development agreement with the county approved in October 2016 – which is slated to total $1.974 million in economic development payments to Fayette County, by NextEra, by the end of it duration – commencement of the project must take place by July 1, 2018, unless the company seeks another extension of the agreement from the county.

“The West Fork project is on track and moving forward as expected,” he said in an email. “I don’t have any additional updates since last we spoke.”

He did add that NextEra was maintaining a presence in the Fayette County community, having recently sponsored several local activities.

“We have been pleased to support a number of community events recently, including sponsorships of the Fayette County Fair, the Connersville Lions Club Rodeo, the Connersville Youth Football League, and the Royal Ball for the House of Ruth,” Garner stated. “At NextEra Energy Resources we believe in building strong partnerships and supporting the communities we serve.”

NextEra has had relatively smooth sailing, at least in regard to Fayette County, concerning the West Fork Wind Energy Center project, but has run into obstacles in both Henry and Rush counties – the other two counties slated to participate in the project.

The company is still in an ongoing civil suit involving the Rush County Board of Zoning Appeals decision and its decision, in December 2016, regarding NextEra’s special exception permits for the Rush County portion of the project.

In that case, NextEra had been seeking a special exception for the construction of 22 turbines for the West Fork Wind Energy Center project there, with a height of roughly 500 feet, and a setback distance from non-participating property owners of 1,500 feet. The Rush County BZA denied the special exception application, however, and add their own requirements for setback distance and turbine height for future special exception applications NextEra might submit.

Those requirements included that any wind turbines constructed in Rush County by NextEra, for the West Fork Wind Energy Center, must adhere to a 2,640-foot setback from non-participating landowners, in addition to be 200 feet or less in height. That prompted NextEra to challenge the legitimacy of that decision in court, which is still ongoing.

The company also, in July of this year, saw the Henry County Area Plan Commission – due to a deadlock vote – effectively denying NextEra’s request for a year extension on their permits, which had previously been granted for the slated construction of nine wind turbines in that county as part of the West Fork Wind project.