A new kind of farm?



A new kind of farm?

Wind company says it is in ‘very, very early’ stages of testing Republic County for wind turbines

By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor

A wind energy company is serious about developing a wind farm in Republic County.

But whether that project will become a reality is yet to be decided.

“Right now we are prospecting, and in the very early stages of the process that we do,” Jamie Gentile, manager of community development for Next Era Energy told Republic County Commissioners Monday.

Gentile and Michael Moore, supervisor of the land acquisition team, answered questions from commissioners and about 25 county residents Monday.

Gentile said there are four steps to the development of a wind farm: make sure there is enough wind, make sure enough landowners want to participate, find a buyer for the power the farm will generate, and make sure the power generated can get to the customer.

Moore said Next Era will erect at least two meteorological towers in Republic County in the next month to confirm wind speeds warrant construction. Next Era will collect data from the MET towers over the next 12 months, he said.

“One of reasons we take our time and do a lot of due diligence is that we will make a $250 to $400 million investment, and we make sure we have everything in place before we commence,” Gentile said.

Renewable Energy Gentile said Next Era is the largest owner/operator of renewable energy systems in North America, including 110 wind farms. Next Era owns the development at Steele City NE east of Fairbury, as well as five other wind farms in southern Kansas. Gentile declined to pinpoint a location in Republic County that interests Next Era, saying only the northeast quadrant, which wind studies conducted earlier show has the most potential for development.

He and Moore also declined to publicly discuss the terms of contracts that the company has presented landowners in recent weeks, other than to say every landowner is offered exactly the same deal. Payment will be made based on the size of the generator, not the wind energy it generates, Moore said.

“(Landowners) will be paid a specific amount per megawatt,” Moore said, indicating generator range from one to two megawatts in size. “You will know (what you will be paid) and can plan financially for each year.”

At the present time, landowners are being offered three year options, renewable for another three years, while the company investigates the potential. Gentile said “it could take us a while just to find a buyer for the power.”

The men also said a transmission line to take the power to customers may also need to be built.

“There isn’t anything really close by here,” Moore said. “We’re committed to getting (the power) to the grid.” Moore said the cost to produce wind energy is today comparable to other sources of energy, including gas, and the wind industry agreed with the federal government to phase out tax credits over the next five years.

“We are very confident in the technology we have now,” he said.

Next Era’s nearest wind farm is a 44-turbine installment near Steele City NE east of Fairbury. The company also operates 111 turbines in Ellis, Ness, Rush and Trego counties (Cedar Bluff farm); 72 in Gray County (Cimarron), 170 in Gray County (Gray); 43 in Gray County (Ensign). In addition, they have a 101 turbine farm under construction in Pratt County (Ninnescah), and a 120 turbine farm is under development in Kingman County.

Westar Energy purchases the power from the Cedar Bluff farm, and will be the purchaser of the power from the Ninnescah and Kingman farms. Other Next Era customers for power generated in Kansas are the Tennessee Valley Authority and Kansas City Power and Light.

Economic benefits

Along with lease payments to farmers, Gentile said that during the six to eight month construction phase, “a small city” of workers move into the area. After construction, the wind farm will create eight to 15 local jobs, depending on its size.

“These are high paying jobs, very technically oriented, that involve maintaining, repairing, and monitoring the towers,” he said.

Commissioners said they would study whether the proposed wind farm would eventually be subject to property taxes with legislation that goes into effect January 1. Previously wind farms have been exempt from taxes in Kansas, but companies made gifts to local governments in lieu of taxes. The Kansas Legislature passed a bill that caps tax exemptions on renewable energy sources to 10 years.

Gentile also told the board that Next Era improves roads, culverts and bridges in the areas where turbines are built.

“There are always pluses and minuses with these things,” he said. “We have a very good reputation, both in terms of working with counties, contributing to projects of the counties we’re working in, and restoring roads properly.”

What: Wind farm informational meeting for landowners
When: Wednesday, July 6 8:30 a.m.
Where: Cuba Community Hall, Main Street
  • Luke Mahin – Republic County Economic Development
  • Doug McKinney – North Central Regional Planning Commission
  • Mike Irvin – Kansas Farm Bureau Legal Foundation