Crummy weather, kolaches, Busch Lite, and wind turbines appeared to be the ingredients necessary to bring area farmers and landowners out en masse last Tuesday, March 22, to Traer Memorial Building to hear a pitch from Apex Clean Energy on why another large installation of wind turbines belongs in Tama County.
As rain pelted down outside on the dozens of farm trucks lining Traer’s downtown streets, Apex’s public engagement manager Drew Christensen welcomed those in attendance to the meeting which began just after 6:00 p.m.
Postcards postmarked the second week of March had been mailed to many landowners in Apex’s proposed Winding Stair Wind project area, an area that encompasses the rural spaces of Tama County’s northeastern quadrant from roughly Buckingham in the north to the outskirts of Elberon – avoiding the Salt Creek Wind Farm footprint that was previously negotiated by a separate company in central Tama County back in late 2020.
More than 120 people packed the tables and lined the back walls of Traer Memorial as Christensen and Apex development manager Jarrod Beckstrom spoke for a combined 12 minutes to the gathered crowd.
Apex – headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia – was described by Christensen as a “leading independent clean energy producer” with over 300 employees and completed operating projects powering more than two million homes annually in the United States.
After telling an opening joke about being a Minnesota Gophers fan – a joke which garnered a few tepid chuckles – Christensen, a former member of the Minnesota legislature, laid the groundwork for why those with land in the proposed permitting area should consider signing lease agreements with the company.
“We all know clean energy is good for the environment,” Christensen said,” but what’s really important here locally is the economic picture, our commitment to the community. We have $800 million dollars paid to local landowners from Apex. One billion dollars of tax revenue injected into local communities. Thirty-six-hundred short term and 300 permanent jobs created.”
Over the 30-year lifespan of the proposed Winding Stair Wind project, a local economic impact assessment conducted for Apex by a third-party predicts the project will provide more than $40 million in total school district revenue, more than $12 million in total county property taxes, more than $67 million in landowner lease payments, and roughly 16-18 full-time windtech jobs.
Christensen also said Apex plans to establish a community grant program in the county for local nonprofits.
“We really feel like it’s important to join the community, become a main street business, do the sorts of things that main street businesses do here in Iowa and across the Midwest,” Christensen said.
Through its contract with JCG Land Services based in Nevada, Iowa, Apex opened a local development office last September located at 306 Main Street in downtown Dysart.
JCG land agents Maxwell Thompson, Jimmy Buckingham, and Tobby Craig – all present at the Traer meeting – have been working out of the Dysart office, handling landowner interactions for Apex.
Following Christensen, Beckstrom – who began working in the field eight years ago as a wind turbine technician in Oklahoma – described the project’s timeline.
There are three phases for the planned 212 megawatt, 50-70 turbine project – development, construction, and operations. Currently, the project is in the development phase which involves voluntarily engaging landowners, beginning work on several studies including resource, environmental and airspace studies, designing the project’s footprint, and finally receiving conditional use permits from the county board of adjustment for the turbines.
Beckstrom said the company has had a “really positive reception” from area landowners and local stakeholders thus far.
“Not everybody wants a wind turbine on their property,” Beckstrom said, “but the people that don’t are very gracious and polite.”
Beckstrom said the company expects to go commercial and begin operations in 2025 or 2026, with a permanent operations building and warehouse from which Apex windtechs will maintain the equipment.
“They’re really good-paying jobs,” Beckstrom said. “I think it’s a really good fit for agricultural, rural communities.”
Beckstrom also briefly touched on why landowners should consider signing a lease.
“Crop prices change all the time,” Beckstrom said as the presentation wound down. “[It can be] difficult to plan for and sometimes to adjust to. [Wind energy lease payments are] generational income, so the lifetime of the lease enables a lot of landowners to have reliable income for the folks that will take over after them. It diversifies your portfolio of assets … and reduces the impact of fluctuating fuel prices for power generation.”
The mood in the room following the less than 15 minute presentation was fairly subdued at first with many in attendance expressing bewilderment to the Telegraph that there was no public Q&A session as anticipated.
Instead, the land agents along with Beckstrom and Christensen mingled from table to table answering questions. A large-scale map of the proposed Winding Stair Wind project boundaries was displayed on a table near the entrance to the room with many landowners gathered around it seeking to learn more.
Jon Winkelpleck who farms family land in and around both Dysart and Clutier along with his father Larry Winkelpleck were in attendance at the meeting. Both expressed concern about the project to the Telegraph, to fellow attendees, and to Tama County Supervisor Larry Vest who was seated at a table near the front of the room.
The project is part of Vest’s supervisor district.
“I think it’s an absolute crime to cover up one of Iowa’s most valuable resources – Iowa’s topsoil,” Winkelpleck said to Vest.
Vest – who recently announced his plans to retire this year after 27 years of serving as a Tama County supervisor – said he does not have land in the Winding Stairs Wind project footprint but said, ultimately, the board of supervisors must do “what’s right for the people” before posing the question: “Whose property rights are more important?”
A few tables over, Shellsburg residents and Tama County landowners Jay and Susan Herman discussed the decision they recently made to sign a lease agreement with Apex as neighbor Laurie Parizek of rural Elberon sat beside them.
“It took us a while to decide [to sign],” Susan said. “We did some soul searching, I guess.”
Susan said the land agent they worked with on the lease emphasized “very strongly” the company’s commitment to care for the land on which the project is built, particularly when it comes to crop damage and building service roads.
Parizek said she still has a lot of unanswered questions about the project including where the Hermans’ turbine will be placed.
“I’m fine if they want to come and talk to us a little bit more,” Parizek said of the land agents but she felt like there should have been more depth to the presentation.
“I don’t know enough about [turbines],” Parizek continued. “How much noise do they make? Some people say they’re very noisy. It also depends on where they put [the turbines]. Where I sit on my patio every night, I have a beautiful view. Will [a turbine] obstruct my view? Do I have a choice where they put it?”
Although he does not own land in the Winding Stair Wind project footprint, Buckingham resident Jim Niebergall was also in attendance at the meeting Tuesday night.
Niebergall is one of five vying for the Republican nomination for Tama County Supervisor in District 1 to replace Vest.
“I am opposed to the proposed wind farm because it will spoil the view of the countryside that I have to the south of my home and I believe the wind farm will be unattractive to potential acreage owners considering a move to northeast Tama County,” Niebergall told the Telegraph in regard to his personal views.
Niebergall said he owns farmland in Benton County – a county which boasts one of the strongest land use ordinances in the state and where no corporate wind turbines have been built – and would decline to sign a lease for a wind turbine there because of the long-term value he sees in protecting Iowa farmland, but added he is not against landowners signing leases.
“I understand and respect the decision of land owners to sign up for the Winding Stair Wind project,” Niebergall continued, “to receive the additional income from the land they own. If elected as Tama District 1 Supervisor … I will not deny landowners the right to profit from wind turbines on their farm if the project receives conditional use permits from the Board of Adjustment after completing the required public hearings.”
Several farmers on Tuesday night expressed concern to the Telegraph that seed corn companies – including Corteva – could pull out of the county if too many turbines go up.
The Telegraph reached out to Corteva Agriscience and asked for comment regarding the company’s position on wind turbines.
A company spokesperson told the Telegraph via email that Corteva Agriscience has not pulled out of any counties in Iowa due to the presence of wind turbines.
“In fact, many of our seed growers have, or plan to, build wind turbines on their land,” the Corteva spokesperson said. “We work closely with our seed growers to help them optimize productivity and quality in their fields to help ensure Corteva Agriscience seed products meet the high quality standards farmers expect to help them maximize yield potential in their farming operations.”
In the aftermath of the Apex meeting in Traer, a grassroots group of Tama County landowners and farmers – including the Winkelplecks – met the following day to organize against the proposed wind energy project.
Rural Clutier resident Chris Behrens owns an acreage in the proposed project footprint and is part of the grassroots group having started a petition through Change.org in opposition to the project.
“A small group of Tama County residents met to organize citizens to preserve our quiet, rural, agricultural lifestyle,” Behrens told the Telegraph. “[And to] protect our community and defend the rights of all rural property owners in the face of the further expansion of industrial wind power production in our county.”
According to the petition, the group has three main goals: contacting county supervisors to make them aware of opposition to the proposed Winding Stair Wind project, changing Tama County’s Wind Energy Conversion System Ordinance which dates back to 1986, and possibly legal avenues.
“It is important our voices are heard early and loud,” an update to the original petition states.
“We are nothing but caretakers of the land while we are here, our intent is to leave it better than we found it,” Winkelpleck told the Telegraph when asked for further comment. “The wind turbines do not fit with that philosophy.”
School tax revenue from wind energy projects
The Telegraph is currently working to better understand the over $40 million in total tax revenue for local school districts Apex cited as a benefit of the proposed project during the March 22 presentation in Traer. Watch for future reporting pertaining to this aspect of the Winding Stair Wind project.
An article published in The Conversation on April 28, 2021, titled “Wind farms bring windfalls for rural schools, but school finance laws limit how much money is spent” is part of this week’s edition of the Telegraph and can be found on page 4.
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