Invenergy LLC, a clean energy company headquartered in Chicago, met with Union County Board of Supervisors Monday to discuss an upcoming wind development project to span areas of Union and Adams counties.
During the regularly scheduled meeting, representatives of Invenergy and MidAmerican Energy Company shared plans for the project, which is in its beginning stages, and talked about what residents can expect as they actively seek easements for the project.
According to Mark Zaccone of Invenergy, the companies are seeking to develop a 250-megawatt project consisting of 70 to 80 turbines. The townships they have identified to place the project include Spaulding, Lincoln and Douglas townships in Union County and Carl, Colony and Union townships in Adams County.
Nick Matchen, manager of renewable development at Invenergy, said they expect the number of towers will be split fairly evenly among the two counties. A substation would most likely be built in Adair county, near another that is currently being built to support a wind development project in Orient.
Specifications are yet to be determined, but Matchen said all new transmission lines would run underground. The height of the turbines have not been determined, but Matchen said in a recent 200 megawatt project, the turbines are 493 feet from ground elevation to the top height, with the blade fully extended, and the life span of a tower is approximately 40 years.
Supervisor Ron Riley said some residents expressed concern over the setbacks.
A property setback is a restriction that prevents a homeowner or entity from building a structure too close to neighboring property. Setbacks establish a distance from a property boundary within which building is prohibited and can also prevent homeowners and entities from building up to a property line.
Matt Ott, project developer at MidAmerican Energy Company, said setback distances are a bit more relaxed at 1,200 feet with cooperative landowners. When it comes to the property lines of nonparticipating residents, the setback is 1,500 feet or further to minimize any impact.
Currently, Union County does not have any zoning requirements when it comes to wind development projects. Riley said those agreements are typically between the energy company and landowners. However, if the county is to create ordinances, Riley said the board would be willing to work with MidAmerican and Invenergy.
Riley requested that the companies put their plans into writing to ensure landowners know the specifications they are signing up for.
Supervisor Dale Cline asked if the companies foresee any expansion of the project beyond their current proposal. Ott said the agreement is still being worked out, but he does not foresee any expansion plans currently.
Riley said some renewable energy tax incentives would end in 2019 and asked if it would impact this or future projects.
“For this project, no,” said Ott. “We would structure it in a way that would take full advantage of those production tax credits.
Matchen said projects that are complete by 2020 will still capture the full value of the tax production tax credit (PTC).
PTC is a federal incentive that provides financial support for the development of renewable energy facilities. According to energy.gov, wind facilities commencing construction by Dec. 31, 2019 can qualify for the credit, which provides a 2.3-cent per kilowatt-hour (kWh) incentive for the first 10 years of a renewable energy facility’s operation.
“From what we’ve seen in the industry, the way we’ve seen prices come down, you’ll still see wind projects go up after that tax credit goes away,” said Matchen.
Without knowing how many turbines would be erected in each county, revenue could be in the range of $2 to $3 million annually.
Matchen said, in a recent project in a different county with a different tax rate, a 200-megawatt project – which is a smaller project – averaged $1.6 million or above in tax revenue annually.
It was said that some counties used tax increment financing (TIF) with 80 percent of the tax revenue benefiting secondary roads and bridge improvements.
Additionally, in counties without ordinances, such as Union, Matchen said Invenergy enters into road agreements with the counties before constructions starts to determine what will be built and what each party is responsible for financially, such as putting down rock, reimbursements for damages and laying magnesium chloride on the roads.
“That way the county realizes who is responsible,” said Ott. “The county is protected … as well as the residents.”
Wayne Pantini, executive director of Union County Development Association (UCDA) surveyed county residents and found 35 percent of residents support development of large wind energy projects.
In the same survey, 8 percent of those surveyed said they had no opinion, 8 percent said these projects should not be allowed, and 48 percent said the decision should be up to the landowner.
Jesse Giza, owner of Giza Contracting in Creston, said his company has partnered completed work on three wind development projects and is currently working on two with MidAmerican in Orient and Stuart.
“The thing that I can tell you from our perspective … there’s good economic development. In these there’s tax revenue. … These wind projects bring long-term jobs to the community too,” said Giza.
Giza cited the success of the Rolling Hills project in Massena, which brought long-term jobs, boosted the local economy and increased tax revenue for improving roads and bridges. He said to improve the county’s secondary roads, investing in wind projects is the way to go.
“I would love to hear that Union County is getting 500 towers … because I can see the benefits of it,” said Giza. “Maybe it levels out our taxes so that we’re not raising taxes in the next 3-5 years per capita.”
Wayne Hill of Afton asked how rates compared between areas with wind developments and those without.
“On a broad scale … Department of Energy did a study. States that have a higher mix of renewable energy, including wind, tended to have lower energy rates,” said Matchen.
Ott echoed Matchen and said because wind is free, it’s typically dispatched first because it is the lowest cost.
Linda Buxton, who resides in rural Union County, spoke on behalf of concerned farmers.
“I read in the lease that when you dismantle a tower you dismantle it to 4 feet below the surface. So, how deep is this cement in the ground?” she asked.
Zaccone said the spread foot foundations are typically 9 to 10 feet deep and 60 to 66 feet wide.
“It largely depends on each location,” said Zaccone. “We do soil samples for each specific tower location, so that dictates one, if a tower can be placed on that spot … and it dictates what kind of foundation, size or type … for that location.”
For easement questions or general questions pertaining to lease agreements, Ott encourages all landowners to hire an attorney to review easement agreements.
The public is welcome to attend Union County Supervisors regular weekly meetings, which begin with open forum at 9 a.m. Mondays.