County commissioners approved conditional use permits Monday for Diamond Vista, a wind energy project proposed in northern Marion County, after a large crowd forced the meeting to move to a larger room.
With people spilling out of commission chambers in the courthouse lobby, the meeting temporarily moved to the courtroom to accommodate the public.
Commissioner Dianne Novak recused herself and left the meeting, citing a potential appearance of impropriety due to a single windmill on her husband’s property out of up to 150 proposed windmills.
Project manager Nick Coil from Tradewind Energy, the Lenexa-based wind farm developer, addressed concerns from commissioners and the public. He explained windmill decommissioning after commissioners Randy Dallke and Kent Becker said some landowners raised concerns.
With approval from Dallke and Becker, the path is clear for windmill construction to start next spring.
Becker suggested putting money in escrow earlier for windmill demolition, but Tradewind representatives said it would change finances.
Coil said infrastructure and energy production will remain valuable for years to come.
“If you don’t have a turbine spinning or operating, you are not able to make the energy predicted for the project,” he said. “It is in the project’s best interest to make sure the turbines are spinning.”
Coil said turbine maintenance is staged to shut down as few as possible at a time. Even if a windmill is not producing energy, landowners still earn a minimum payment.
Brice Barton, a Tradewind vice president, said turbines are connected in a series, similar to Christmas lights. Connections run underground primarily on private property, but permits are required to cross county right of way.
Attorney Greg Musil, who represents Tradewind, compared wind farm infrastructure to the value of car transmissions.
Barton said Tradewind and EGP Energy Solutions, the likely project purchaser and second largest energy producer in the world, have strong track records.
“We have 3,000 megawatts in the ground in 18 or 19 projects right now,” he said. “We’re over 10 years operation of those.”
Coil addressed concerns of what happens if wind farm operators go bankrupt.
“The power plant, the wind project, will be owned by a certain company with very large investors,” he said, “and those investors will have a vested interest in keeping the project going.
“They are under contract, first of all, to produce a certain amount of power for a certain number of years. In the energy industry, these power purchase agreements are kind of the holy grail. They’re gold in the industry, and they are not defaulted on.”
He said the money trail can be followed to find who has a vested interest in the project. The answer: “anybody and everybody connected to it.”
Coil said this project will supply energy where there is already a demand. The only way for the project to not be in operation would be if people stopped using electricity.
“If we stop using electricity, we’re not worried about turbines being on our property, we’re worried about ‘Mad Max’ type of situation,” he said.
While many people asked questions, none of the more than 25 people in attendance spoke out in direct opposition to the project. Several spoke in favor.
Hillsboro economic development director Anthony Roy read a letter from Hillsboro Development Corporation in support of the wind farm project.
Centre school superintendent Susan Beeson also spoke in support of the project.
Landowner Dave Mueller said the contracts already detail what was discussed.
“We had these discussions as landowners in the contract,” he said. “We’re comfortable with the way it’s set up. It’s an issue that’s been resolved.”
Dallke said commissioners needed to look out for the county.
“People don’t want to see something out there that looks ugly and degrades Marion County,” he said.
“Well I would like the blades to be painted yellow, and then it would look like sunflowers,” another landowner said to laughter in the courtroom.
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