Preparations for a wind turbine project in Cass and Miami counties are about 75 percent complete, according to an energy company representative.
Brad Lila, director of development with Renewable Energy Systems Americas’ Minneapolis office, discussed the project at a dinner at Angie’s Catering and Cakes in Logansport Tuesday night. Over 100 were in attendance, including Cass County commissioners and other public officials along with landowners participating in the Harvest Wind project.
Lila explained how Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, bought the project in October 2016 from Community Energy, a purchase that included meteorological towers the company erected and data collected by the towers.
Landowners have signed about 35,000 acres on to the project in northern Cass and Miami counties, according to Lila. Officials from both counties and RES continue to negotiate an economic development agreement, decommissioning agreement and road use agreement, all of which he said would need to be completed before permitting for the $900 million project could begin.
The amount of direct payments in property taxes from the project over 25 years is still being negotiated in the economic development agreement, Lila said. RES is likely to pay an estimated $70 million in economic development payments, he continued, a boost he said could protect both counties from tax rate increases in the future. Economic development provisions in the form of payments in lieu of taxes can be funneled to where county governments determine they’re most needed, he also said.
Lila said the decommissioning agreement requires RES to have a surety bond ensuring enough funds are available to take down the turbines should the company have to abandon the project. That amount is determined by a third-party engineering firm county officials and RES agree to, he continued.
Cass County Commissioners President Jim Sailors added the figure would be renegotiated regularly throughout the future to keep up with inflation.
The road use agreement dictates how RES would repair roads after the heavy equipment required for the project is done being transported, Lila said.
It’s currently difficult to determine how many turbines the project would result in and how tall they’d be because a turbine model hasn’t been chosen yet, according to Lila.
The project is capable of using turbines 500 feet tall to the end of a blade all the way up to 670-foot turbines, he said. Taller turbines generate more megawatts and would result in fewer turbines needed for the project, he continued. A project with taller 4.2-megawatt turbines could mean 150 towers across both counties, Lila went on to say, adding shorter turbines could mean a total of about 225.
PROJECTED TAX REVENUES
Assuming a 600-megawatt project with 143 turbines, Lila said the project would pay landowners in the two counties about $109,350,000 over 25 years. He estimated about 220 landowners will be signed up by the time preparations conclude.
Miami County’s tax base would increase $279 million while Cass County’s would increase $621 million, Lila said.
Sailors said in his State of the County address last week that the project would boost Cass County’s tax base by $810 million. He said by phone Wednesday that $810 million was a preliminary figure based on a projection involving more towers and added the $610 million assumption could go up or down in the future as well depending on how the final plans for the project turn out.
Lila said RES’ lease agreement for the project calls for landowners to be compensated on the same per-acre basis. Landowners are also paid $4,000 per turbine and royalties, he said. He added landowners within the project area also have the opportunity to be compensated even if turbines are not erected on their land.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND SETBACKS
RES would build turbines at least 1,500 feet away from residences, a distance of 1.1 times their height from nonparticipating property lines and with 50-decibel limits from the nearest residence, Lila said. Cass County’s wind energy ordinance requires turbines to be at least 1,000 feet from homes, a rotor blade length from nonparticipating property lines and with 60-decibel limits from the nearest residence.
Opponents of the project say half-mile setbacks from property lines are needed, arguing anything less compromises health and safety while infringing on property rights.
Lila could not say at Tuesday’s dinner whether energy generated by the project would be used locally, adding he did not know if local utilities would be among those purchasing energy from it.
Electric lines would be buried between turbines in Cass County, which Lila said would be routed to a single steel pole substation that would extend an overhead transmission line 12 to 14 miles long connecting to a similar setup in Miami County.
Exactly where the turbines would go will be determined by an engineer, Lila said, adding they can’t be placed too close together or too far downwind from one another or else efficiency would be compromised. He estimated there would be two to three turbines per section. RES would run computer modeling on shadow flicker when determining where to place turbines as well, Lila also said.
Sixteen-foot-wide access roads would lead out to turbines that farmers would be able to use and would be able to travel over in farming equipment, Lila said. Farmers would be able to plant right up to the structures, he continued.
The turbines’ 9-foot deep concrete foundations would not affect area groundwater, according to Lila. He said RES would have to ensure 4 feet of a foundation is removed when a turbine is decommissioned and the area would have to be returned to its former state.
Dan McDonald, a firefighter with the Royal Center Volunteer Fire Department, asked if RES would provide training for emergency personnel that would respond to the turbines. Lila said he would have to speak with the company’s construction representatives for particulars but that the company would be willing to work with local first responders.
Jim Beecher, who has leased land with RES, attended Tuesday’s dinner.
“I wanted to find out real facts instead of internet facts,” Beecher said after the event, referring to what he and others at the dinner described as what they feel to be false information put forward by the projects’ opponents via social media.
The Boone Township farmer said he wants to participate in the project for a steady line of income to complement his agricultural revenue, which fluctuates. He added the project would provide more money for county government, which he said could be used to help resolve issues like the need to expand the local jail.
John Williamson, who was also at Tuesday’s dinner, said he has an attorney reviewing a proposed lease agreement with RES that he anticipates signing.
“I’m very supportive of the project,” he said, adding he wants to participate for the extra income for himself and county taxing units.
Tuesday’s dinner was invitation only. Lila said by phone Wednesday that RES intends to coordinate a future event with county officials that would be open to the public after the economic development agreement is finished.
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