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County Board updated on EcoHarmony West Wind Project

Fri, May 15th, 2009
Posted in Government

Don Miller representing EcoEnergy brought the board up to date on the status of the proposed EcoHarmony West Project at the board's May 12 meeting. The comment period regarding the application for a Large Wind Energy Conversion System Site Permit ends May 20, 2009. EcoEnergy proposes to build a 200 megawatt wind farm in this first phase. A planned second phase would yield a similar size wind farm.

EcoEnergy out of Madison, Wisconsin, is working on wind projects throughout the Midwest. Miller explained there are four components for a wind project: 1) a good wind resource; four towers testing the resource have been up for as long as four years, 2) a point where the power can be sent out, the interconnect, for this project located south and east of Harmony, 3) willing participants, Miller claims nearly 110 agreements have been made with landowners mostly in Harmony and Bristol Townships, some in York and Carimona Townships, 4) two state permits, the site permit which is in progress and the Certificate of Need Permit which is granted if the project meets the state's long term energy goals. Both permit applications were accepted by the Public Utilities Commission, one in January and one in February 2009. Miller notes the project will help the renewable energy standard signed into law by Governor Tim Pawlenty on February 22, 2007, requiring 25% of the electricity produced by the state's utilities to come from renewable energy by 2025. There will be a public hearing on the application for the Need permit, also. A public hearing was held on the Site permit on April 15. Miller said another public hearing will be held by the state in Harmony in June.

The hope is to have a report completed by the end of July so it can be on the state's Public Utilities Commission agenda in August. There will be another opportunity for public input at that time. Environmental studies will be done to study impact on birds, bats, wet land, and noise pollution. The study also considers size, type and timing.

Miller explained that the company policy is to setback turbines at least 1,000 feet from a dwelling exceeding the state requirement of 500 feet. In order to meet the state's noise standard of 50 decibels, turbines would need to be set back at least 700 feet anyway. He equated 50 decibels to be similar to a refrigerator compressor. Also, the noise factor about 1,000 feet from a busy highway would yield about 50 to 60 decibels of sound.

Miller adds the next item is financing. He admits that availability of financing was slowed down some with the onset of the financial crisis last fall and the ongoing weakness in the economy. Miller expects they can put together the necessary funding.

A decision has not been made on the megawatt (MW) size or model of the turbines to be erected. Miller says there will be 134 turbines (262 feet high) if they are 1.5 MW or 100 turbines if 2 MW.

Chairman Chuck Amunrud inquired about road damage incurred by site preparation work and the load of the turbines being delivered. Miller said they have been in contact with County Engineer John Grindeland and as of yet aren't sure which roads will be impacted. He added their Transportation Plan will allow for good sighting for access roads for the turbines. The company is to make sure roads are maintained and reconditioned.

Commissioner Marc Prestby was concerned about the decommissioning process and cost. Miller said about $20,000 will be set aside per turbine to remove and clear four feet down. The state permit requires the decommissioning plan.

Miller discussed plans for the overhead transmission line which is to be about eight miles long and the route it would follow. The company is trying to secure fifty foot private easements, but may need in specific areas to secure permission from a township or the county to use those public right of ways probably along County 44 and/or 120th Street. EcoEnergy will need to file for a route permit from the county. The company has no power of eminent domain, but must obtain voluntary easements or leases.

The completed project is expected to employ ten to fifteen permanent employees to manage the project. They will be head quartered in an Operations and Maintenance building in Harmony. EcoEnergy expects to begin construction in late 2009 or early 2010 and hopes to have it operable by late 2010.

Landowner Payments

Participating landowners due so by choice, there is no eminent domain. The company will disperse about $765,000 in initial payments for signing up. Another $5,000 per turbine will be paid to landowners ($670,000 total) for hassles related to construction. An estimated annual payment of $6,750 per turbine for the 1.5 MW system would pay annually a total of $904,500 for the 134 turbines to landowners which would accumulate to a total of $30 million over the expected 30 year life of the turbines.

Production payments to Fillmore County of .12 per kilowatt hour would provide and estimated $600,000 to the county. The funds are to be split 80% to the county, 14% to local government and 6% to the school district. The local government funds are dispersed based on location. The funds for the school district at this time are sent to the state and dispersed across the state. Legislators are considering going back to the policy where the funding produced in the county by the wind farm is retained for the school districts in that county. Total production payments over 30 years could total $18 million.

Other Business In Brief

• Sheriff Daryl Jensen received approval for the Safe and Sober Grant for 2009. This is an annual grant which is about $9,000 this year. Wages and fringe benefits are reimbursed, the county or city pays only for the fuel. Jensen said they accept less funding to achieve a balance with the number of officers they have to fill the extra shifts.

• The board accepted the resignation of part time public health nurse Barb Rasmussen and thanked her for her thirty-two years of service.

• Chuck Amunrud summarized a letter he had received back from the Director of the Minnesota Historical Society, Nina Archabal. The board had sent a letter to her on April 28 requesting a reconsideration of the decision to close the Forestville Historic Meighen Store Site. It appears now that the site work will be downsized, but will still be open on a more limited basis if possible. If it does get staffed, it would only be three days per week, probably Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Amunrud said that Friends of Forestville, who had worked to raise money when the site had been targeted for closing in 2003, and Sandy Scheevel met with him to make plans for as much activity as possible on a reduced budget.

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