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Landowners offered few answers from Invenergy on Cerro Gordo wind project  

Credit:  Rae Burnette | Globe Gazette | globegazette.com ~~

Earlier this month, energy company Invenergy presented a new wind project to Cerro Gordo County farmers, which seemed to be met with a less-than-warm reception.

Invenergy is planning a 180 megawatt wind farm in Cerro Gordo county, with roughly 40-50 windmills from the Floyd county line to property lines Southwest of Mason City. It is partnering with a firm for the recycling of decommissioned windmills.

Landowners aired their concerns about large companies making their way into rural Iowa: “We’re not against alternative energy sources, including wind… We learned through the decades how to be good neighbors. And I’m worried about this project– about you guys being a good neighbor” said Mr. Gibbons, a landowner in Cerro Gordo county.

Tameem Jahan, Invenergy developer, answered by saying he understands that windmills may not be the nicest to look at, but “participation in the project is 100% voluntary.”

“You are still fully able to hunt on land with wind turbines, we ask that you exercise common sense and not shoot the tower,” Invenergy Senior Analyst Harry Finch joked. “There’s really not much of a restriction on your activities. We ask that if you want to put up a rain silo or something you consult with us,” he added about property rights under easement contracts.

“Why don’t you go out to the landowners first and ask where they might consider putting turbines,” one landowner asked about their development process. Invenergy Land Agent Brett Swanson was able to clarify:

“It wouldn’t make sense to put the cart before the horse in the sense that clearly there is some opposition here, which is fine, it’s normal for a project. But with that said, if you can imagine going out ‘hey we want to propose three turbines on your ground. This is where we want to locate them.’ You’re all on board, sounds great, we want to do it. But if you become islandized and your neighbors around you are not signed up, we’re wasting our time completely. So (we’re) going out and asking people voluntarily.”

Farmers left the meeting with many questions unanswered. Invenergy knew how many windmills they wanted to start the project, but couldn’t answer questions about size, setbacks, environmental impact, competing energy, future installations, or where they want to physically place the windmills.

Mark Crowl, Iowa Manager of Renewable Development of Invenergy reached out to the Globe several days after the meeting to offer additional insight regarding landowners’ concerns.

Invenergy stated it is currently in the development stage of this project, and its priority is gaining easement contracts from landowners. After gaining enough contracts, Invenergy will move forward in project design.

Project specifications remain a big issue for farmers, who shared concerns over being taken advantage of through the easement contracts. Farmers remain concerned their “good faith” conversations about where the company wants the windmill to be placed will be largely ignored because there is no contractual obligation of agreement after the easement is signed.

“We send out a template to give folks an idea of what’s generally in there (the contract) and that starts a conversation,” Crowl said. “Folks read through it and get the value and benefits it can bring.” Crowl went on to say that while some landowners do sign over the whole property, most tailor their easements to where they would allow a windmill to be built.

Invenergy maintains that it will not produce specifications for windmill placements or size until after it has enough easements for their project. Crowl did specify that the turbines Invenergy works with are less than 600 feet from the base to the tip of the wing. The larger the turbine, the fewer turbines within a project, he said.

When asked what Invenergy does for environmental impact issues such as eagle’s nests and bats, Invenergy stated it does an extensive internal study and takes recommendations from Fish and Wildlife Services. When asked if they are required to listen to external recommendations, Invenergy maintained that it works together with the Department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife Services. A concern for farmers at an open town hall on Jan. 26 was Invenergy’s history of ignoring DNR recommendations in favor of its own studies, which raises concerns over research bias. This sentiment was echoed at the landowners meeting.

A new transmission line is set to be built within the project footprint in the near future, the Soo Green Line. When farmers asked if that would bring future expansion to the project, Invenergy said any expansion would be considered a new project, and would not be included in this one.

A question came from the audience asking if a windmill on their property would impact their connection with the ethanol industry, possibly lowering the value of their crop yield.

Invenergy effectively sidestepped similar questions about competing energy during the meeting, as well as an inquiry about Aircraft Detection Lighting Systems.

“It sound like to me we’re signing up for a lot of things you don’t know (about),” one landowner said.

Crowl said price per acre of commodities grown for ethanol will stay the same regardless of whether there’s a turbine on the property. He believes a turbine would complement property use, as it diversifies income and energy output for farmers. Crowl also clarified that Invenergy is unique in that it has the ability to develop, build, and operate its Iowa projects, though selling projects to other companies is decided on a project-by-project basis.

Crowl asserts that Invenergy takes a custom approach to make wind farms workable for participating landowners, and even benefits those that aren’t actively participating.

Source:  Rae Burnette | Globe Gazette | globegazette.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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