With unanswered questions and a room full of residents concerned about the impact of the proposed Soldier Creek Wind Farm, Nemaha County Commissioners retained a Kansas City attorney to assist in negotiations with the project’s developer during the Commissioners’ meeting on Monday, Dec. 3.
James Neeld, of Sandberg Phoenix and von Gontard P.C., will make weekly reports at Monday commissioner meetings. Neeld, who has extensive experience in complex energy negotiations, will work on the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) and also road use and decommissioning agreements.
Several concerns were voiced in a two-hour discussion at the meeting, including the project’s footprint more than doubling in size since it was first announced, and how to protect residents in situations in which the landowner isn’t participating in the project.
“I’ve gotten a lot of communication,” Commission Chair Dennis Henry told representatives of the developer, NextEra Energy.
NextEra’s initial proposal was for around 60 square miles in a sparsely populated area south of Highway 9. The latest plans have more than doubled the project’s footprint, covering an area across most of the middle of the county.
NextEra’s original plan came under an agreement negotiated in December 2016 that won’t require it to pay property taxes on the wind farm for the life of project. State tax legislation that went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, reduced the tax-free time period to 10 years.
Opinions differ as to whether the enlarged footprint qualifies for the tax free incentive, and will ultimately be decided by the Kansas Department of Revenue, County Attorney Brad Lippert said.
Henry also asked how to protect non-participating property owners. He’s concerned existing homes will lose value and no new homes will be built in areas where windmills are closely located.
“People live in Nemaha County for a reason – we want to keep them here, not chase them out,” Henry said.
Standard setback from a 480-foot-tall turbine to a home that isn’t participating in the project is 1,400 feet, Jenkins said.
Jenkins urged commissioners to visit any of the seven wind farms NextEra operates in Kansas to speak with landowners – participating and non-participating – for a “first-hand” account.
“It’s in our best interest to not surround a home with turbines. That’s something we really try to avoid,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said NextEra is approaching 100,000 acres leased for the project, which is around what is needed. He said land acquisition is to be finished by the end of the year, with engineering plans showing the locations of turbines and access roads complete by Jan. 31, 2019.
Community Informational Meeting
What: Get Informed!
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, December 12
Where: Fairview Community Building
Who: Galen Ackerman and others will present factual information.
Note: Additionally, some county commissioners and county township officials will likely be present.
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