A meeting regarding the possible installation of wind towers in the county drew a crowd of about 80 last Thursday night, August 12.
County officials scheduled the meeting at night so more people could attend when they were off work, after a suggestion from a county resident. County Administrator Misty Peterson and Assistant Administrator Denise Chavez ran the meeting.
Peterson began the meeting by introducing the participants, most of them present on ZOOM. Karl Myers works for Tri-State Transmission and said he was interested, as Tri-State buys from wind producers and in what zoning changes might be made. Christina White is a project developer for Engle. She said her company is involved with wind, solar and hydroelectric towers and they are interested in developing the southwest portion of Washington County to put wind towers. This project is in the early stages of development.
Jared Necamp of Blue Earth Renewable is also a project developer for his company and they are interested in putting up wind towers. Hilary Clark, from American Clean Power, was also interested in hearing more about developing Washington County. The only person in attendance was Jennifer Herron from NextEra and they are working on a project in Logan County.
The meeting was then opened for questions. One man wanted to know the cost, how much the companies would make, overall costs of projects, including putting up turbines, wires, foundations, towers, etc.
White said a project could cost millions of dollars. Another man remarked on how much trash would be generated from the project, if the county thought they could handle that amount of trash and if they thought they might have to dig another trash pit. An individual asked how much of a tax credit the companies received for putting up towers, and the companies didn’t know.
One commented that since the companies thought this was so important they should have been present and it was also felt they should have at least had their face on the screen. It was asked if names have been chosen for these projects and White said they have a project going in Logan County called Sage Bluff and the one in Washington County was named Shear Draws. They have joined the two projects and it is now the Shear Draws Wind Project. Necamp said they have not chosen a name as yet.
None of these companies have started a project in Washington County as of yet, but they are interested in starting one and are doing preliminary work on projects. One person asked about combining projects and White said her company is checking out combining two projects into one. They were then asked about tower height and the amount of setbacks. Necamp said some towers could be as tall as 8 feet, but most of the turbines are shorter. His company is not asking for shorter setbacks or to get rid of setbacks.
White said her company’s turbines are from 499’ to about 525’ tall. If buildings are around, the setback is at least 1,500 feet and there could be shorter setbacks if there are no buildings or other wires present.
One individual said that they had looked at health reports and one she found online said individuals, especially children, could suffer from severe health effects and wanted to know if they were going to pay for those effects. Clark said most organizations who have done tests said there have been no health effects from wind turbines, but that she would check into this new report. She was unable to find the report and felt she had the wrong address, so she got the right site and was going to check it out after the meeting.
Another person asked about local job employment. They had been by one project and saw only out of state employees. Herron said her company uses lots of local businesses and local employees. One man of Simon Contractors, which is out of Logan County, said they are working on the new development in Logan County and there is a lot of local employment. It was then asked if a project was begun in Washington County, if they would use Washington County businesses and employees and Herron said they would if they could find them present.
Myers was asked how much electricity could go up if a project was developed in Washington County. Myers said his company was interested in keeping costs affordable, as cost is a concern to them. He also said wind energy was cost effective. Another said that wind power increases the cost of electricity. It was stated that turbines interfere with the FAA regulations for lighting as turbines have a lot of lighting and the color of turbines, as a gray or white tower may be better for other planes to see. Clark said the FAA does give developers a choice of colors to use on the towers and on the lighting used on towers.
A person said the number of cows aborting around turbines have gone up and other people who live around turbines have seen a lot of dead birds and some animals have left the area completely. All companies answered and said they work with the Department of Wildlife rangers and they do surveys all the time to see if they‘re having an impact on the wildlife.
One man asked about the gag order companies include in their contracts. The orders say they cannot talk to their neighbors or others about any contract they may have signed and he wanted to know why. He said the Planning and Zoning Committee has done a good job and he commended them for the work they have done or the idea of towers.
One person from Logan County said they have done a survey in Logan County and those with towers on their land have seen a drop in property values in all aspects. At the end of the meeting one person stated, “What are they doing to our farming and agriculture community and county? They need to start thinking about agricultural counties and communities.”
The meeting left a lot of unanswered questions and there are still two sides. There are those who are thinking about the benefit towers would do money wise for the county and for those with towers on their land and the other side who feel towers would be too high a price for the county. There is no guarantee as to how many towers would be placed on the amount of acreage a person owns – even the companies couldn’t answer that question, as it would depend on the route the project would take. When they start a project, they have a basic idea of the route of a project, but as everyone knows, plans change.
There is still some time before the moratorium on wind towers ends on August 31, but the commissioners know that a decision will have to be made before then.
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