Construction of the High Prairie Wind Farm in Adair and Schuyler counties is proceeding at a reasonable pace despite some delays, a representative of the company said.
Glenn Smith, the Terra-Gen project manager for the development, met Wednesday with the Adair County Commission to provide an update on the project.
For construction of the wind farm, Terra-Gen will contract with two companies, one to install the wind turbines and another, a “balance of plant” contractor, to complete all other work. The latter will likely hire local subcontractors for some work. After construction is complete, the wind farm will be sold to utility company Ameren Missouri.
Smith said Terra-Gen is expecting to finalize a road maintenance and use agreement with the county in mid-August, after securing full financing for the wind farm’s construction. After doing that, the company can give a formal notice to its contractors to proceed with construction.
Terra-Gen will also make a payment to Adair County 90 days before the start of construction for the use of its roads, which will likely be damaged by the use of heavy construction equipment during the process. Repairs will be made by the balance of plant contractor after the project concludes.
The project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2020.
Smith said many wind farm projects are currently in progress because a federal tax credit for constructing such projects will begin to phase out at the end of 2020. He said because of that approaching deadline, any company interested in constructing a wind farm is trying to do so as quickly as possible.
“There will be more economic pressure on wind farms across the country,” Smith said. “But the production costs keep coming down, there’s a lot of efficiencies built into the supply chain. Any decline due to those economic factors can be offset by states like Missouri, when they put in place renewable portfolio standards.”
Renewable portfolio standards require that utility companies use renewable sources for a certain amount of their energy. Missouri’s Clean Energy Act requires that utilities produce renewable energy equal to at least 15 percent of their sales by 2021.
Smith said that has also meant it is more difficult for Terra-Gen to sign an agreement with a balance of plant contractor, because there is now more demand for their services than is typical. However, he said he also expects that contract to be finalized by mid-August.
In addition, Terra-Gen needs to submit permit applications to some government entities, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Defense. Smith said the land surveying work necessary to submit these materials was delayed due to the area’s long, snowy winter.
Adair and Schuyler County landowners who have reached a lease agreement with Terra-Gen are starting to learn whether a wind turbine will be located on their properties, as the company ensures land they intend to build on is removed from the Conservation Reserve Program.
The CRP is a land conservation program of the Farm Service Agency, which provides farmers a yearly rental payment in exchange for setting aside environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production or other uses. Land used by wind farm construction will need to be removed from this program. The lease agreements Terra-Gen has with landowners specify that removal of the program is their responsibility, Smith said, but the company is working to ensure all landowners are informed about what they need to do.
Landowners will be paid according to the energy production of the wind turbines placed on their land at a rate of $6,500 per megawatt per year.
Pending legislation that would keep the wind farm’s tax dollars local was also discussed at the meeting. Several different bills in the Missouri Legislature have been introduced that would keep the property taxes of utility-owned wind farms in the counties where they are located. Smith said Terra-Gen and Ameren are supportive of the change.
Local Rep. Danny Busick and Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin have introduced legislation in each chamber; O’Laughlin’s bill passed the Senate. House Bill 220, a similar bill introduced in the House by Rep. Allen Andrews, has been referred for a vote by the Ways and Means Committee.
Another part of the construction process for Terra-Gen is ensuring that they are taking steps to protect endangered species whose populations could be damaged by wind turbines. In this area, that means protecting Indiana bats.
Smith said the company has been working with US Fish and Wildlife Services to ensure there is a minimal impact on the endangered bats. The turbines will include automatic controls that shut off during the bats’ active hours when wind speeds are under 5 meters per second, the conditions in which bats are mostly likely to be out and be endangered by turbine blades.
The number of bat deaths will also be monitored, and Ameren will set aside land it owns in another part of the state as a permanent Indiana bat habitat reserve.
Smith said the progress of the wind farm is, overall, going well.
“There’s a lot of schedule pressure right now, but every day you’re starting to see things come together,” Smith said.
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