OSWEGO – Labette County commissioners and a committee tasked with investigating the impact of wind energy on the county met with a representative from the German utility company Monday that’s looking to develop a wind farm in the southwest part of the county.
Commissioners met briefly with Brandon Hernandez, a wind development manager for RWE Renewables in Austin, Texas, the utility looking to develop the Elm Creek-West Wind project in a 99-square-mile area of southwest Labette County.
So far, RWE Renewables Development has filed eight memoranda of lease and easement agreements with the Labette County Register of Deeds Office in Oswego, four in January and four so far this month. The agreements allow the leased land to be used for wind energy purposes and to determine the feasibility of wind energy conversion on the properties. The leases are for a developmental term, which will continue until energy is generated or June 30, 2025. The leases also have an operational term, which runs from the generation date or the expiration of the developmental term to the end of the 30th calendar year after that date.
The agreements so far cover 10,016.5 acres split among 72 tracts.
Hernandez told county commissioners Monday that RWE is in the early stages of the process and the company wants to be as transparent as possible with commissioners and the public.
“There is no construction. There (are) no operations happening anywhere in the near future,” Hernandez said.
He said the company wants to see what county residents think about the project.
The commissioners formed the wind farm study committee to look into wind farm development and possible regulations. The committee met with Hernandez after commissioners. A report on that meeting will be published in Wednesday’s edition.
Commissioner Lonie Addis said commissioners didn’t want to impede the committee’s work but still wanted to ask questions.
Commissioner Doug Allen said the committee will give commissioners recommendations on how to proceed with the project and they trust the committee members to explore all aspects necessary.
Addis asked about the agreements between RWE and landowners. Commissioners have heard that these agreements are confidential between landowners and the wind developers in other counties. Some agreements even have gag orders on the landowners, commissioners have heard.
Hernandez said confidentiality is from the landowner’s perspective.
“If landowners want to discuss what they are agreeing to and whether they have leased or not is entirely up to them,” Hernandez said.
He said the agreements document what can and cannot be done relating to turbines. They also include payment policies and legal descriptions. He said the numbers in the agreements are proprietary because they include information RWE does not want competitors or opposition groups to get. He said if RWE disclosed the terms of these agreements, negotiations with landowners would be difficult.
Addis also asked if developers bar other companies from coming into a county once they are established or exploring wind energy.
Hernandez said RWE has a number of projects in the U.S., many in Texas. In one Texas county there are multiple projects by different companies.
“By no means can we restrict another company from coming in and developing with us and visa versa,” Hernandez said. He said this potential competition is another reason to keep agreements between RWE and landowners proprietary.
“I know of some landowners in this area that’s been approached by other companies already. Whether they move forward with that or not is entirely up to their discretion,” Hernandez said.
Allen asked Hernandez if the agreements were confidential.
“That’s something that I won’t disclose,” Hernandez said of the contents of the agreements. “If landowners want to talk about that, that’s up to them.”
Allen asked if the contracts were set up so landowners could not discuss them. Hernandez said no.
RWE’s lease terms do not change from landowner to landowner, he said. The only changes relate to erecting on the land a MET tower, which is a resource measuring device. Initially, a MET tower will measure wind and other factors to determine resources available in the area. Hernandez said he will be discussing MET towers, which are generally 199 feet tall and 8 inches in diameter, with landowners and the commission.
Hernandez also told commissioners that he would be happy to show them a map that shows the outside boundaries of the area
RWE is targeting in Labette County. He said the area is in southwest Labette County, west of Altamont and north of Edna.
As RWE studies the possibility of a wind farm in the county and gathers leases and wind data, the area of interest shrinks.
“So a large box becomes smaller and smaller and smaller. And from there we decide on the final location,” Hernandez said.
Allen asked what kind of turbines would be installed.
“The turbine selection is far down the road,” Hernandez said.
The company must identify wind resources, study vendor availability and other factors.
Commissioner Fred Vail asked if MET towers would be installed in proximity to wind turbine locations.
Hernandez said yes and that RWE follows a process and the commission’s comfort on setbacks. Placement depends on land availability and there are geographic constraints to select tower locations. Towers also have setback requirements from roads.
Addis asked if Hernandez knew how tall the turbines would be.
Hernandez said it’s not definite. Generally the tip height is 499 feet, but the company works with the FAA, the county and multiple other agencies to get approval before such determinations.
Addis asked if RWE had projects in other counties. Hernandez said there are multiple projects in Texas and others in Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania. Texas is a renewable energy leader and Kansas is becoming one, he said.
Allen asked if the development would be impacted if the federal production tax credits that wind energy developers use to create the wind farms sunsets this year as scheduled.
Hernandez said RWE hopes the credits continue, but the company plans to move forward with the project no matter.
Vail asked about the timeline for the project.
Hernandez said the progression depends on county leaders. The MET tower is the next step. If it’s approved, RWE will install it and collect 12 to 18 months worth of data, which will help RWE create the proper turbine layout to capture the wind resource. RWE also would conduct a desktop environmental review to study cultural, historical and other concerns in the area. But if RWE cannot install the MET tower the project does not go.
The MET tower has a small footprint on the land but setbacks need to be established to develop that site or sites. A company will help RWE find the prime locations for the MET tower or towers.
Commissioners then left the courtroom to allow the committee to meet.
In other matters, county commissioners:
— Agreed that the company hauling wind turbine parts from Great Plains Industrial Park in the coming months to Missouri should use Scott Road from the park and turn east onto 24000 Road, the former highway, to get to U.S. 400 to continue eastbound. Commissioners toured county roads last week and found that if the heavy trucks with wind turbine parts travel north on Scott Road, which is gravel north of 24000 Road, that the road would be damaged. Commissioners thought that 24000 Road, as a former federal highway, has a better base to support trucks. TP&L has a lay down yard at Great Plains and has wind turbine parts shipped into the park via railroad and will transport them out by truck. TP&L is a logistics company and will store and deliver parts to wind farms being built in southwest Missouri and eventually in Neosho County.
— Agreed that concrete trucks leaving Parsons to travel to Neosho County for the Neosho Ridge Wind project construction can use Kiowa Road north into Neosho County. There are no bridges on this stretch of road from U.S. 400 into Neosho County.