Franklin County resident Loretta Janssen has been waiting nearly four years for the wind turbine she agreed to host on her land to begin construction, but it looks like the project may never materialize at all.
In 2017, Wild Rose Wind Energy LLC began signing easements with Franklin County residents around the Sheffield area to lease out land for a wind turbine development.
According to documents obtained by the Globe Gazette, the proposed wind farm was estimated to be 15,000 acres. None of the documentation provided, nor the developer’s website indicate how many easements that may have included.
Janssen, who lives just north of Sheffield, agreed to lease her land for a wind turbine back in 2017 in exchange for annual payments of a little more than $1,000, which she has received each year. It’s now 2021, and neither progress nor communication has been made on the project, leaving those who signed easements, like Janssen, in the dark.
“I keep telling them I won’t live forever,” Janssen joked. “I want to see this done.”
Confusion began in early 2020, when those who agreed to easements received news that Wild Rose Wind Energy, out of Des Moines, according to the Iowa Secretary of State, had been acquired by Steelhead Wind LLC, which is owned by Vestas American Wind Technology, a subsidiary of the multi-national corporation Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark.
The new developer of the project assured participants that it was still in progress as of October of last year, giving an estimated completion date of 2023, and saying that the COVID-19 pandemic had caused a delay.
“COVID has unfortunately provided a significant level of hinderance to our development efforts,” Steelhead Wind representatives wrote in a letter dated Oct. 23, 2020. “However, we continue to make progress and anticipate project completion in 2023.”
Janssen’s most recent payment was in March of this year for $1,230.40 and it came from Vestas American Wind.
Franklin County supervisor Gary McVicker said he was aware that Steelhead Wind was seeking easements.
“The leases are signed, it’s kind of just hanging there,” McVicker said. “When COVID hit we never heard anything again.”
McVicker explained that for any wind turbine development project to become a reality, companies must first go through county zoning. McVicker said that Steelhead Wind has not spoken with anyone in Franklin County’s zoning department. Franklin County does not have any wind farm-related zoning regulations.
“The ball is in their court entirely,” McVicker said. “They have to decide when they’re going to come.”
Chris Vanness, another Franklin County supervisor, admitted that he knew little about the Steelhead Wind project, only that they had secured leases in the area.
“Nobody has heard anything,” Vanness said.
Other than her annual check, it’s been radio silence from Steelhead Wind since October for Janssen, and despite claiming progress is being made, evidence to prove that is difficult to come by.
No phone number is available on the Steelhead Wind website, and the email is no longer active. The former project development manager of the project no longer works for Steelhead Wind or Vestas, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Vestas did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Globe Gazette.
Wind energy development projects have become a hot topic in North Iowa, with proposed projects like Worthwhile Energy in Worth County becoming a divisive topic in the community.
Opponents of wind energy projects like Worthwhile Energy, claim that negative impacts of wind turbines outweigh the positive impacts. Proponents of wind energy point to the economic benefits that wind turbines often bring to the communities they’re in.
Janssen is left hoping the Franklin County project is still in the works, and that the 2023 completion date is still set.
“I always try to be optimistic, so I’m hoping,” Janssen said. “I would like to see it get going.”
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