If the Missouri Public Service Commission allows (the case is pending), Terra-Gen, LLC will break ground in Schuyler and Adair counties next year on the state’s largest wind farm.
What is the next great economic driver in northeast Missouri?
To borrow a line from Bob Dylan, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”
If the Missouri Public Service Commission allows (the case is pending), Terra-Gen, LLC will break ground in Schuyler and Adair counties next year on the state’s largest wind farm. Eventually, the wind farm will be comprised of 175 wind turbines that will generate enough power for 120,000 homes by 2020.
When complete, the farm will be purchased by Ameren Missouri, which will become the first utility in the state to own a wind farm.
The economic impact is as towering as the 450-feet-tall turbines themselves. An estimated 400 construction jobs will be created to build the project, and eventually 30 permanent positions – with about $50,000 annual salaries – will be needed to operate the farm. There will be $1.8 million in new spending during construction, with about $500,000 annually once the farm is operating.
K-REDI Executive Director Carolyn Chrisman said the construction alone will bring significant impacts to the local economy.
“Those construction jobs do mean a lot. We really saw it with the Kraft Heinz plant, when they had all these (construction) people coming to town, the hotels were full all of the time. That shocked a lot of people. The restaurants were full. I think they really saw just how much of an impact that additional local spending had for those 18 months,” Chrisman said.
“This is probably going to be 12-18 months as well, and so your hotel tax is going to be through the roof, especially with two new hotels. Every other entity, whatever they saw with the Kraft Heinz expansion, they’re going to see repeated.”
Tremendous impact, to be sure, but a mere zephyr in comparison to the gale-force movers like land-lease deals and local tax benefits.
Unlike projects where land might be seized through means like eminent domain, Terra-Gen worked with more than 200 landowners to come to agreements where it will lease property to host the turbines. The landowners will receive a combined $3.2 million annually in lease payments, and about 80 percent of those landowners reside on those properties.
“That’s money that’s going to stay and hopefully generate; turn over again and again in the economy,” Chrisman said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s on the Adair side or the Schuyler side, it’s mutually beneficial.”
Perhaps the only question remaining regarding economic impact is with tax revenue. It was previously estimated that the two counties were looking at a combined increase in property, sales and income taxes of $32 million over 25 years of wind farm operation. The Schuyler County school district was projected to receive more than half of that money.
Things changed when Terra-Gen sold the project to Ameren Missouri. Where the company would have had the wind farm assessed locally and paid the taxes locally, state law stipulates utilities, like Ameren Missouri, spread their total tax liability over their entire service area. So while the amount of taxes paid would remain the same, the taxing districts on the receiving end would not be limited to those in Schuyler and Adair counties.
Chrisman said lawmakers are aware of the issue and a legislative fix could happen before the first tax payment is due. State statute has a provision that requires utilities that own solar farms to pay taxes on the facilities in the local municipalities, rather than across the service area. Hope remains that wind farms could be added to the clause.
“I think we have time to fix the problem,” Chrisman said.
None of this would be possible, the company says, without the Mark Twain Transmission Line. The 96-mile, 345,000-volt transmission line that saw court battles waged over it for years was finally approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission in January 2018, following significant changes to the route and agreements with county commissions in the project’s path.
The upgraded transmission line will improve electric infrastructure in the region, and have the capacity these kinds of resources need.
“That’s the 16-lane highway,” said Bob Begstrom, principal consultant with Terra-Gen.
And, of course, it also wouldn’t be possible without the resource itself – wind. Terra-Gen has studied the target area extensively to ensure proper placement of turbines to turn the moving air into electricity.
“You need to know the wind first before you build the wind farm,” said Yuanlong Hu, vice president of the company’s wind analytics group. “This site has good potential because we see typical wind patterns – in the summer out of the southwest and in the winter out of the northwest.
“For a wind farm to work we want the wind to be constantly blowing. Very steady wind pattern, so it’s predictable off the production.”
And given the flat terrain, Hu said there is a great potential for expansion.
“This is just the first step,” he said.
Chrisman shared that sentiment.
“I do think we’re going to see other wind projects come about, especially if some federal tax credits get extended. I know two wind companies are talking about western Adair and Sullivan, I’ve heard there is a wind farm talking to Knox County…so this is something I think is coming in the future,” she said.
The turbines themselves are taller than the Statue of Liberty and incredibly durable. Ethan Piveral works with Vestas, the company that will manufacture the turbines.
“You’d be pretty surprised by how sturdy they are, but you’d also be very surprised by how flexible they are,” he said. “A lot of what is on those turbines is fiberglass and they have to be flexible in order for oscillation and vibrations and things like that.”
Midwestern thunderstorms are no match.
“They hold up pretty well, short of a hurricane or monsoon or something,” Piveral said.
Turbines are typically placed no closer than 300 meters to a home. Vestas says at that distance the sound pressure would reach 43 decibels at the residence. For comparison, average air conditioners can reach 50 decibels.
Piveral has spent a decade working near wind turbines and said there is no doubt they make noise, particularly in high winds. But, he said, if the wind is blowing hard enough for you to hear the turbine, it’s probably blowing hard enough that you’ll hear the wind itself instead.
Another common concern is the environmental impact. While wind is clean energy, the turbines are massive structures with large blades, things that can be deadly to birds and bats.
Terra-Gen has contracted with Stantec for environmental studies and is developing plans to minimize the impact on native creatures. Because the area is home to endangered bat species, this is a critical and mandatory step.
Terry VanDeWalle, senior biologist with Stantec, said the company has been studying local birds and bats for the last two years.
“We use all this information to look at what is the risk to birds and bats in the project area. Most people know and understand that wind turbines kill birds and bats. There are some things a project can do to reduce that,” he said.
Those include operational things, such as the time of day the turbines operate and the wind speed at which they are activated.
It’s something the company takes seriously. VanDeWalle noted the important role bats play in our ecosystem, explaining that one brown bat can eat 150 mosquitos in 15 minutes.
“None of us want to have bats in our house, but from the larger picture bats are very important,” he said.
If the project comes to fruition, it will have to be good for bats, too. After that, people like Chrisman will continue working to make sure all possible economic benefits are explored.
“We’re not going to let this be the one-and-done situation,” she said. “What else can come about because of this?”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding