In terms of economic development, permitting a wind farm in Allen County is an exciting prospect.
Tuesday night county planners spent nearly two hours reviewing and making changes to a document, which when recommended to county commissioners and approved, would make possible a special use permit for a wind farm north and east of LaHarpe, or anywhere else in the county. Of the 15 people listening, only two had objections. Several asked questions that clarified concerns.
EDP Renewables, a Houston-based company with an office in Kansas City, Kan., proposed the project and has lease options on 13,000 acres and is negotiating options on another 7,000, Chris Morris, of EDP project development, told the Register.
Rorik Peterson, associate director of development for EDP, said if and when the wind farm wound its way to completion, landowners would receive payments for acreage leased for turbines, as well as for each turbine.
The number of turbines, Peterson explained, would depend on rapidly-expanding technology. The project is predicated on producing 200 megawatts. Generation of commercial turbines today ranges up to 3 1/2 megawatts, meaning the farm could contain between 60 and 100, he said.
When wind farms first surfaced, one turbine was rated at about half a megawatt. In a short time that has multiplied to the point that one can do what five or six did then, and it’s likely to become more pronounced, Peterson predicted.
If 200-megawatt output were realized here, it would be enough to meet electrical needs of 60,000 homes, or far more than are in Allen and adjoining counties. The outcome is electricity from the EDP project transported to nearby high-voltage lines along the east side of the county would be mixed with other power within that regional portion of the nationwide grid.
Consequently, whether power generated locally would stay local is a moot point.
How soon would the Allen County project start and when would it be operational, Peterson was asked.
His estimate, provided Allen County planners and commissioners give their approval, is sometime within the next year. Construction would take the better part of a year and entail 250 to 350 workers.
Another 15 full-time employees would patrol the wind farm, doing maintenance and making adjustments to the towering turbines — 400 feet or more including 100-plus-foot blades.
County commissioners met with Peterson months ago when the idea of an Allen County wind farm first was broached. Tuesday’s was the third for planning commissioners to discuss the topic.
JERRY DANIELS, county commission chairman, characterized the project as “a viable economic project we can’t turn out backs on. It will bring (permanent) jobs and make the county more productive.”
The wide-ranging installation also would generate an uptick for the county’s budget similar to the Enbridge Pipeline, although not of the same scope.
Daniels said Peterson mentioned a $400,000 to $500,000 payment a year in lieu of taxes until the installation was listed for property tax inclusion following a state-imposed 10-year exemption. EDP paid Coffey County $495,500 in December 2015 in lieu of taxes for its 100-turbine farm near Waverly.
Until 2017, Kansas allowed lifetime property tax relief for renewable energy projects. Last session the Legislature changed that to 10 years, the same as other new utilities enjoy in Kansas.
The ultimate component for turbines to spin power to the grid is that sufficient wind speed occurs frequently. Not a problem in Allen County, Morris said. Four 263-foot meteorological towers have tested wind currents in northeast Allen County for several months, and found “a good, strong wind resource.”
IN ANDERSON County, Calpine, a Houston energy company, submitted plans about this time a year ago to build a wind farm that seemingly has met opposition at every turn. Now, the company may have pulled out altogether, according to Vickie Moss, a reporter for the Anderson County Review who has followed the story since day one. She was assigned the story, Moss said, because her editor, Dane Hicks, is one of several Anderson Countians who admit being uncompromisingly opposed to having a wind farm.
At a recent meeting, only six of 85 people who attended gave indication of support for the project, Moss said. Meanwhile, Calpine has not been heard from since late spring, she said, despite “repeated calls from me, which went unanswered.”
Calpine isn’t a lightweight and its deciders may have reached the conclusion that building in Anderson County wasn’t worth the effort. A 300-foot meteorological tower, such as the four EDP has in Allen County, was destroyed by vandals. “That may have been the last straw for Calpine,” Moss said.
Calpine made its mark with geothermal and natural gas generation and took advantage when federal tax credits to promote clean energy and state incentives made wind power popular. Altogether, the company has generation in 20 states and Canada capable of 27,000 megawatts production, enough to meet the needs of 21 million homes. The Anderson County project was its first venture into Kansas.
Moss said much of the opposition apparently comes from a “not in my backyard” rant. “Esthetics is big,” Moss said, adding some locals view the Waverly complex as unsightly. Of particular note is that atop each windmill is a pulsating light to warn aircraft of their presence.
Daniels proposed the lights, required by the Federal Communications Administration, are a fact of life. A helicopter pilot, Daniels said he had flown near windmill farms fields in southwest Kansas. “You get used to them,” he said, he said of the lights, and are a lifesaver for aircraft occupants at night.
How many of Anderson County’s 8,000 residents are opposed to the proposed wind farm is not known. But those who are, are vocal.
The Calpine farm isn’t the first proposed for Anderson County. About 10 years ago a group in Lenexa talked about erecting commercial turbines in the Kincaid area. The project did not find traction.
Anderson County commissioners mostly have been mum about the project, Moss said.