Commissioners learned some answers to the most looming questions about the High Banks Wind project in a meeting Monday with project manager William Wilkens and NextEra Energy attorney Alan Anderson.
Washington County commissioners and county attorney Elizabeth Baskerville Hiltgen listened to the meeting via phone; the meeting was held in Belleville during Republic County’s commission meeting.
Wilkens said contractors could start to mobilize for construction by this December, with plans for the wind farm to be operational by December 2023.
As designed, 185 turbines would be located in eastern Republic County, and 31 in Washington County, he said. The project includes a 75-mile transmission line that would extend from two substations east through Washington County and connecting to the Irish Creek wind farm NextEra recently built in Marshall County.
Tommy Kokko, the lead land agent for Cathedral Land Solutions LLC, said 125,000 acres are under lease for the High Banks Wind project.
“Landowners have been very receptive to the project,” Wilkens said. “We are almost complete with the acquisition with leases for the actual wind farm.”
Wilkens said the company filed applications with the Federal Aviation Administration in late January to approve specific sites for turbines. He said he expects the FAA to complete their review by October. Once the FAA approves a site, the company can shift the location of a turbine only 100 feet.
Because of the interest raised in Republic County, Wilkens said NextEra plans to file application with the FAA for Automatic Detection Light Systems on the turbines. The ADLS technology would activate red flashing lights at night only when an aircraft is detected in the area.
Wilkens said the FAA will make a determination about the ADLS systems on a turbine-by-turbine basis.
“If it is allowed, is it your intent to utilize the (ADLS) system?” asked Republic County Commissioner Doug Garman.
“It is,” Wilkens said.
Garman asked whether the High Banks project packed more turbines in a smaller land area than other wind farms.
“I can’t speak for all projects, but in my experience, this is a pretty spread out array,” Wilkens said.
While the company filed with the FAA for towers of a maximum height of 650 feet (the height from the base of the tower to the tip of an extended blade), the High Banks farm turbines are expected to be a mix of 580 foot and 499 foot turbines, Wilkens said.
“We’re still working through the final turbine technology,” he said. “(Bigger) turbines might not be best economically for a project.”
Anderson said there are more than 40 wind farms operating in Kansas, and NextEra owns 9 of them.
Anderson said that the estimated cost to decommission a wind farm at the end of its life is determined by a third party, and financial security is put in place to cover those costs. Those estimates can be updated periodically to account for inflation, he said.
“The county will at no time be exposed for decommissioning,” he said. “There will always be security in place for decommissioning.” Language about decommissioning is also included in the individual landowner leases, he said.
NextEra setback distances of 1,500 feet from residences is more than what is recommended by turbine manufacturers, Anderson said.
“(Wind farms) have a 20-year history in Kansas,” Anderson said in regard to questions about health and safety issues raised by residents. He said in counties where wind farms have been in operation for many years “you’ll find they work very well for those residents.”
Plans to expand existing wind farms in Cloud County and Jefferson County Nebraska are currently underway.
Like new construction by other manufacturers and energy sources, High Banks Wind will qualify for a 10-year tax abatement. Equipment will depreciate over a seven-year period, but by law that depreciation rate is capped at 20 percent, and does not zero-out like other equipment, Anderson said.
Wilkens says the project expects to pay $100 million in taxes in Republic and Washington counties in years 11 through 30, and $115 million in lease payments to landowners.
Wind energy companies may also make a voluntary donation to counties in years 1 through 10. NextEra has not yet proposed an amount for that donation.
Anderson said the “huge impact” for the county for a wind farm will be payments to landowners.
“(A county’s) landowners get to choose how to use their private property,” he said.
Wilkens said up to 350 construction jobs will be created in the year it takes to build the farm. He said the wind farm will employ 12 to 15 fulltime operations and maintenance technicians once it is in operation.
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