After 3½ hours of discussion and pointed questions from county commissioner Dianne Novak Friday, county commissioners approved a development agreement for a wind farm project long the subject of contention.
The agreement was approved by commissioners on a split vote, with Randy Dallke and Kent Becker voting in favor and Novak voting against letting the wind farm proceed.
The approval was granted with a few amendments to the original proposal – one of which was that the wind farm would increase the amount of money it offered to pay the county.
After original conditional use permits were approved – some of them years ago while the project was in development over different developers – Expedition Wind had to finalize an agreement with the county for road use, decommissioning, and payments in lieu of taxes before the company could apply for building permits to start work.
One of Novak’s contentions was that Expedition Wind developers were not offering the county enough money.
“I’m not happy at all,” Novak said.
The company’s initial proposal offered $1,800 per megawatt produced during the first 10 years of operation when all turbines are tax exempt. After that, the per-megawatt payment would increase for turbines operating under conditional use permits granted earlier, when state law gave turbines permanent tax-exempt status.
Novak also pushed for more money for road maintenance.
Patrick Thompson, a consulting attorney hired by the county to assist county counsel Brad Jantz, told Novak that at some point, if the county pushed for too much money, their demands would kill the project.
Another issue Novak had with Expedition Wind’s proposal is that it sets a cap on professional service fees and engineering fees and specifies that any costs beyond the cap would be deducted from payments made in lieu of taxes. Novak said the contract should be changed to a simple cap, after which Expedition no longer pays consultants hired to help with the project.
Novak listed numerous examples of proposals she said would “bog down the county engineer.”
A clause in the proposal related to road maintenance specified that if an issue arises over roads, the county engineer would bring it to commissioners to review.
“It says just to review,” Novak said, repeatedly tapping the document with her pen. “Just to review. Just to review.”
County counsel Brand Jantz told Novak most people would interpret that to mean the commission would make a decision.
“I assure you, that’s already in the contract but we’re going to add it just to …” Thompson said.
“Satisfy me,” Novak cut in, pointing to herself. “Thank you.”
Novak then brought the discussion back to Expedition’s annual payments.
Expedition CEO Pat Pelstring said the company would agree to pay $2,000 per megawatt on all turbines the first 10 years, then $2,500 for the turbines with permanent tax exemption during the next five years, then $5,000 for those same turbines starting in year 16.
Becker moved to go ahead with the conceptual agreement as discussed, with minor changes as agreed. Dallke seconded the motion.
“I am so disappointed in the county,” Novak said as she frowned and voted against approving the contract.
After Friday’s vote, attorneys for the county and Expedition must make the changes specified during discussion and then apply for building permits before work can begin.
“We have worked very hard with county staff and commissioners on the efforts to reach a comprehensive development agreement for our wind project,” Pelstring said. “This agreement is designed to address the improvement of county roads, protect electronic communications, and insure and indemnify the county, as necessary, related to our project.
“Additionally, we have now agreed to a payment in lieu of taxes schedule that will provide the county and the school districts more than $17million over the next 25 years. Over the past 90 days we have adjusted our proposal to meet county requests and we are pleased that we have now reached a fair agreement that will meet the needs of its residents far into the future. Through this agreement, we look forward to a continuing positive relationship with the county and school districts.”
A wind farm opponent came to Monday’s meeting to complain.
Tom Britain told commissioners his property is in the Flint Hills, where wind farms are disallowed under state law.
Becker told him the state specified a particular area where wind turbines are not allowed. Britain’s land is outside that area.
“I wish you would appreciate where I live,” Britain said.
Also during Monday’s meeting, consultant Russ Ewy reported that a protest petition filed against the wind farm after the planning and zoning commission recommended approval of a conditional use permit in October did not represent enough land to be qualified.
To be a qualified protest petition, it must represent 20% of surrounding properties. The protest petition represented 9.6%, Ewy said.
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