A German utility company is seeing if it’s feasible to develop a wind farm in Labette County.
The Labette County Commission and Commissioner Fred Vail last week discussed a letter received from RWE, a German utility company, wanting to visit with landowners about the potential to generate income on their properties by leasing to wind farm developers.
RWE Renewables as of Oct. 1 has taken over the renewables businesses of E.ON, also a German utility.
E.ON and now RWE is developing/building projects in Woodward County, Oklahoma, and Kenedy County, Texas, near Corpus Christi.
The new RWE, which still has a portfolio of fossil fuel assets (coal, lignite and gas), will have 9 gigawatts of renewable generation capacity. It plans to invest $1.5 billion each year in expanding its renewable energy portfolio. The company is aiming for total decarbonization by 2040, according to a wind trade publication.
Labette County commissioners have heard for some time that a wind company was looking to lease land in Labette County. On Monday, commissioners will hear at 9:45 a.m. from Neosho County Commissioner Paul Westhoff. Apex Clean Energy is building a wind farm in southwest Neosho County in Westhoff’s district. Commissioners also plan a work session and wind energy will be a topic.
Matt Tulis, communication manager of RWE Renewables based in Austin, Texas, visited with the Sun about the company’s project in Labette County.
He said RWE is exploring a wind farm project in the county. An E.ON representative dropped off a business card to County Commissioner Lonie Addis some months ago, but with the recent merger RWE will be the developer.
“We’re in the very early stage of development for a project there,” Tulis said, adding that the Oct. 11 letter may have been RWE’s first communication on the project.
At this stage, Tulis said he does not know the size or scope of the project.
“It’s so early in the process that it’s impossible to tell at the moment how big the project’s going to be, what type of turbines we’re going to use, all that sort of stuff.”
He said leases would have to be in place and studies completed on wind availability before that could be determined.
“All those things have to be done as part of development to determine the size of the wind farm, how many turbines you’re going to have, what the layout is. So you need a lot of research and development to happen before you determine all that.”
Commissioners heard reports that a wind developer had approached landowners already about leases. Tulis didn’t know if that was RWE, but he said other developers are sometimes working in the same territory when RWE is in the exploration phase.
Right now, Tulis said RWE has 23 projects across the United States. Most are in Texas and two of them are in the development/building stages, one in Kenedy County, Texas, and the other in Woodward County, Oklahoma.
He said RWE likes to do larger-scale projects that generate at least 200 megawatts of electricity.
RWE will be looking at three things: A good wind resource, available transmission lines and local community support (landowners and local government officials).
Tulis said the studies needed for a specific area would determine the length of time required for the development phase.
“Some of it depends on the transmission studies that we have to do. That’s usually the longest lead time. We have to do a series of studies … to determine the impact of putting the project on the grid. Those can take anywhere from two to three years,” Tulis said.
Wind studies ideally would have a year’s worth of data, more if possible, he said. Environmental studies would be taken up as well. These would include four-season bird and bat studies.
RWE prefers setting up in open areas, but the company plans for setbacks from houses, roads and structures. Tulis was traveling and didn’t have those figures available.
Tulis indicated the RWE development may not hinge on receiving federal tax credits for wind energy projects as developers like Apex and NextEra are using. The tax incentives are expected to expire in 2020 and the Trump administration so far has indicated an unwillingness to renew them.
The RWE project in Labette County would be years down the road.
“We’re counting on that phase out to continue to happen,” Tulis said of the tax credits. “Because that’s what the wind industry has gotten behind to do. So some of that is going to depend on the type of offtakes that we can get.”
Offtakes are agreements with companies to buy the power from the wind farm. Offtake agreements can be used to help a company acquire financing for construction, expansion or new equipment based on the promise of future income and proof of demand for the product.
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