GIRARD – As soon as next week, the company Apex Clean Energy could get the green light to move forward with plans for a $250 million renewable energy project, known as Jayhawk Wind, which would ultimately involve the installation of up to 100 wind turbines in northwestern Crawford and southwestern Bourbon counties.
In a conference call with the Crawford County Commission in late March, Julianna Pianelli, development manager with Apex, said a series of agreements for the project had been approved by Bourbon County earlier that month.
“Jayhawk is currently in the later stages of development of the project and construction is slated for later this fall of 2020, so we have a commercial operational date for the wind project by 2021,” Pianelli said.
The wind farm project will provide over 300 jobs during the construction phase and 30 new long-term jobs in Bourbon and Crawford counties, and landowners with wind facilities on their properties will receive lease payments annually over the projected 30-year life of the project, according to promotional documents provided by Apex.
Dennis Meier of Triad Environmental Services – who along with Jeff Spangler, public engagement organizer with Apex, attended the March 27 commission meeting in person during which Pianelli spoke with commissioners via conference call – said concerns that had been brought up included ensuring subcontractors are paid for work on the project in a timely manner, and whether the county will at any point have to use eminent domain to acquire private property to facilitate the project.
Pianelli said Jayhawk Wind would not involve building a new transmission line, and would instead be tapping into an existing line in the project area. Alan Anderson, an attorney with the Polsinelli law firm in Kansas City who was on the March 27 call with the commissioners, said the project would not use eminent domain.
“One thing that differs between a renewable project and a traditional utility project is eminent domain,” Anderson said. “This project is different from a utility in that it does not have the right to eminent domain, so the only way a project moves forward is if they have adequate numbers of willing participants in a community that want to, you know, enter into private contracts and express their interest to be part of it that way. At no point does the project get to use eminent domain for any of their connection lines up to that point, so that will never be an issue as part of the project.”
Another concern, Meier said, was road maintenance work that would be required as a result of hauling materials such as rock or cement for the project.
“There could also be some impacts in Neosho County or Labette County if that’s where some of the rock sources might be,” Meier said. “So I think that any kind of agreement that we would want to have, we should at least be cognizant of perhaps the impact on some of the adjacent counties if they’re moving through those counties to bring product here, or if the Labette contractor, if the rock’s in Labette they have to come across Crawford County to get into perhaps Bourbon County.”
In another call this week at Tuesday’s county commission meeting, Anderson discussed details of agreements similar to those approved by Bourbon County that Apex is hoping Crawford County will approve, possibly as soon as next Tuesday. These included a road use and maintenance agreement.
“I think this is the least impact on roads that I’ve ever seen in a project,” Anderson said. “I mean it is a matter of a handful of roads being utilized.”
Addressing the concern brought up by Meier in their previous discussion, Commissioner Bruce Blair asked if the roads to be used would be designated ahead of time and whether the agreement covered road maintenance required as a result of hauling materials such as cement or rock. Anderson said that would be the case in response to both of Blair’s questions.
Anderson and the commissioners also discussed a decommissioning agreement between Apex and the county.
“There can sometimes be some concern that ‘Oh, you know, the project will just go away because of this reason or that reason,’” Anderson said, adding that the project would not at any point simply be abandoned “overnight.”
“But what this does is at the end of the project, at the end of its kind of use, that there’s a mechanism by which it will be taken down,” Anderson said. If the wind turbines stopped producing electricity or stopped being used, Apex’s obligation to decommission the project and remove the turbines would begin.
“What this really covers is your backstop should that not happen,” Anderson said. Under the agreement the county would hire a professional engineer to determine the cost of decommissioning the project, and update that cost every five years, and Apex would be required to have funds available to the county to cover that cost if the project needed to be decommissioned.
Anderson and the commissioners also discussed an agreement for payments to the county, which according to the draft agreement included an initial one-time payment of $135,938 within 45 days of approval of construction beginning on the project, annual payments of $121,875 over the next nine years, and a tenth year contribution of $60,938. All of these payments would go to the county’s general fund, Anderson noted, allowing the county to spend the money as it sees fit.
The commissioners and Anderson discussed the proposed development agreement for Jayhawk Wind, which includes restrictions on the amount of sound from the turbines and its impact on residences of people who are not participants in the agreement, as well as setbacks for construction of the turbines of at least 1,400 feet from residences, and a further distance than the height of the turbines from non-participants’ property lines and county roads.
“Turbines will be lighted in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration,” the draft agreement notes.
Another agreement Anderson discussed with the commissioners would establish a point of contact for county residents to express any concerns about the wind energy project and for resolving complaints and engineering disputes. Under the agreement the developer would have to respond to concerns within five business days and maintain records of those concerns. The county government would also be able to get a report annually, or within 30 days of a written request at any point, about those concerns.
The county would have the ability to order a review of any unresolved concerns by a licensed engineer, and provided it was not disputing a recommendation from the engineer hired by the county, the developer would have an obligation to act in accordance with such a recommendation.
Anderson said based on his experience with wind energy projects it is unlikely that the complaint resolution agreement would need to be used, but it would give the county an option to use if necessary.
The commissioners were initially planning to discuss the proposed agreements with several other Apex representatives on Tuesday, but there was a problem with the conference call so they were only able to talk to Anderson. They agreed to set up another call next Tuesday, April 14, for further discussion of the proposed Jayhawk Wind agreements.
“I think both Bourbon County and Crawford County have done an excellent job of really, you know, doing everything, a thorough review and process,” Anderson said.
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