High Banks Wind Makes Progress On Land Agreements

By Deb Hadachek Telescope News

The developer of a proposed wind farm in eastern Republic County and western Washington County said response to the project from landowners has been “very positive”.

Billy Wilkins, project director for renewable development for NextEra Energy told Republic County Commissioners June 2 that options have been signed on about a fourth of the land NextEra estimates it needs for the 201-turbine wind farm.

Wilkins was recently named project director for High Banks Wind. He has been developing renewable energy projects for several years now, and prior to joining NextEra, he served for 21 years in the U.S. Army as a civil affairs officer.

He told commissioners he most recently helped develop wind project in Nebraska.

Wilkins said there are 10 land agents in the region working with property owners.

Large Scale Project

The 600 mgw project named High Banks Wind is ”a fairly large scale project”, Wilkins said. The name is a nod to the Belleville High Banks racetrack. Depending on its ultimate size, the project could include two substations and a transmission line that will connect with a NextEra project in Marshall County.

Wilkins said NextEra still seeks a buyer for the electricity that the farm would generate, which might affect the size of the project and when construction starts.

He said the company has targeted late 2022 or 2023 for construction to begin, but that could be pushed to 2024.

“We had a project previously in this area, and had landowners interested then and a lot are still interested,” Wilkins said. “That project had some challenges due to military training route and FAA concerns, and we had to redesign the entire project boundaries.

“This is essentially a brandnew project, but the reception in both counties has been very positive.”

Wilkins said at this time the proposed boundaries of the project does not extend west of US81.

“Belleville is outside of our footprint right now,” he said.

NextEra has been operating wind farms in Kansas since 2001, he said, starting in Gray County. The company just finished their ninth project in Kansas, in Nemaha County, and the Irish Creek project in Marshall County will be operational this year.

As now designed, three fourths of the turbines would be located in Republic County, and one-fourth in Washington County, Wilkins said.

Wilkins and Alan Anderson, an attorney with Polsinelli in Kansas City, MO, said NextEra has had few disputes with landowners or counties in their work in Kansas.

“If you go to the counties where (Nextera) built before and talk to people you’ll find projects went well,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty rare to have anything negative linger after.”

“On projects I’m working on right now, we’ve accommodated every landowner’s (request) except for one, “Wilkins said in regards to details like where an access road to a turbine is located. “Often time it’s just a conversation between our construction crew and landowner to make that happen. We have a process in place to address those concerns.”

NextEra will also address “haul roads.” –county roads that may need additional fortification due to the weight of wind turbine equipment and heavy traffic during construction–and Anderson said roads will be left “as good or better” than before construction started.

Anderson said NextEra, the largest producer of wind and solar energy in the world, continues to operate the utilities it builds.

The High Banks project is expected to generate $115 million in landowner payments, $100 million in property taxes, 400 construction jobs, and 13-15 permanent jobs once the utility is built.