By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor
A Florida-based wind energy company is visiting with landowners in Republic and Washington counties about the potential development of a wind farm.
A representative of NextEra Energy Resources LLC plans to meet with Republic County Commissioners at 9 a.m. on Monday, June 27, and with Washington County Commissioners at noon on Monday. Both meetings are open to the public.
Republic County Economic Development director Luke Mahin said the RCED also plans to host a meeting for landowners sometime in the next two weeks, probably in Cuba. He was still arranging details of that meeting Tuesday.
Public Meeting for Land Owners on Wind Farm Development
Wednesday, July 6th at 8:30 am
Cuba Community Hall – Upstairs
200 Baird Street
NextEra is based in Juno Beach FL and is the nation’s largest owner and operator of US wind generating facilities. The company has more than 100 wind facilities in operation in North America, including some in Kansas, capable of producing 11,300 megawatts of electricity.
The company says it plans “to continue the aggressive expansion of its wind business” in coming years.
Kansas Sen. Elaine Bowers said she has received information that the company is “in preliminary stages of development”. They have talked to county clerks in affected counties and informed them leasing agents may be visiting with local property owners. Bowers said while there are rumors that a 1,000 tower farm is planned, NextEra representatives said “size is yet to be determined, but it certainly will not be that large”. Wind energy represents more than 23 percent of electricity produced in Kansas and a total investment of about $10 billion. About 45 percent of the power is exported.
Talk to neighbors
Local officials just began to get information about the possibility of the wind farm this week, as reports circulated about leasing agents visiting with individual landowners.
In general, potential development appears to be centered in northeastern Republic County as well as along the US36 corridor in eastern Republic County near Cuba and Haddam.
North Central Regional Planning based in Beloit, has investigated wind energy and wind farm development for this area for a number of years. Doug McKinney, director, encouraged neighbors to talk to each other about the proposed leases.
“I contend neighbors should come together and talk openly about the matter so they are all on the same page,” he said.
Local attorney William Navis, Belleville, agreed. Navis said he started to research wind contracts about two weeks ago after he was contacted by clients seeking advice on the leases.
“I think it would be helpful to have a landowners meeting, and if a group of landowners would work together jointly to seek counsel on the lease agreements–someone who is an expert in wind energy,” he said.
“That would be more effective for the landowners and the company.” Navis said he doesn’t have the expertise to negotiate a contract, and would guide clients to attorneys with experience in wind contracts.
“I think at this point people should be patient and weigh these discussions and do their due diligence before they sign anything,” he said. “If they know people with wind towers on their property or friends from those areas, they should talk to them.”
Republic County Commissioners and the Republic County Economic Development board discussed the wind farm Monday. Commissioners said they planned to make contacts with governments in counties like Cloud, Lincoln, Ellsworth and Marshall County where wind farms already exist.
John Cyr, retired director of NC Regional Planning, said wind maps have always indicated good potential for a wind farm in this region.
“There is a large area in the northeast quad of Republic County,” he says of the map. “When you compare this to the wind farm development areas of Cloud County and those in Lincoln and Ellsworth counties you will get some sense of the potential Republic possesses, so the idea someone is interested is not all that outlandish.
“One of the reasons Republic County has not been developed up to now is the transmission lines have been too small to handle the load, but the line coming up from the south and through the Meridian Way wind farm may be enough to remove that road block,” he said.
by Dan Thalman – Washington County News editor
Leasing agents representing NextEra Energy Resources LLC have been talking to landowners in the west-central part of Washington County and eastern Republic County, handing out information about leases for a potential wind farm project in the area.
There hasn’t been a lot of information released about the project at this time, like the size and scope of the project or the timeline for building it. There was a rumor the farm was going to include 1,000 turbines, but it will certainly not be that large.
Representatives from the company plan to meet with county commissioners on Monday to introduce themselves. They’ll be at the Republic County Commission meeting at 9:30 a.m. and the Washington County Commission meeting at noon. The meetings are open to the public.
Seth Wurtz said he and family members were approached last week by a third-party contractor working with NextEra about their land, which is located north of Clifton near Kansas Highway 148. Wurtz said he was given the impression the wind farm would be located in the western part of the county, between U.S. Highway 36 and K-148.
He talked on the phone with a third party leasing agent on Wednesday, the same person who had met with his brother and father on Tuesday.
The agent presented an overview of the process, including contracts, how much money would be paid to landowners per turbine, information on use of existing roads and building of new roads.
The agent said the contract amount would be non-negotiable and would offer $4,000 per megawatt (MW) per year, with a 2% increase per year for 10 years at which point the payment would be capped. The lease would go for 90 years and transfers with the land.
Wurtz said the agent said the turbines would be 300 feet tall and produce either 1.5 or 2MW, so the annual payment per turbine would be between $6,000-$8,000 per year. Plus, up to three turbines could be placed per quarter section. So a quarter section could produce up to $24,000 per year for a landowner in year one.
Wurtz said he was concerned about the condition of roads for construction – his property has a dirt road for access – but the agent said the company improves roads and other infrastructure, including bridges, when building at the sites.
The company would widen access roads to 30 feet during the initial build, but then they would be taken down to 15 feet. Access roads to the turbines would be permanent, but the agent said each turbine and its access roads only take the equivalent of one acre of ground when complete. Cattle can still graze the properties and crops can be farmed around the turbines.
The company would work with farmers to make sure access roads aren’t built against a farm’s typical planting direction or cause other problems, and any tax increases that come as a result of land improvements would be paid by NextEra.
Wurtz said the agent said the turbines would not be built next to creeks or marshes, and no hunting would be allowed within the premises of the turbines (something he said would raise some hackles in this area, but the requirements weren’t detailed.)
Wurtz said the agent was not pushy, in fact, he encouraged landowners to go talk to their lawyers before signing the contract. NextEra would reimburse landowners $120 for any lawyer fees to look over the contracts. He said there were a couple people who wanted to sign on the spot, but he didn’t want that to happen yet. There has also been a landowner who wasn’t interested in the project, but for now, they’re talking with landowners, trying to answer questions and seeing if they can come up with enough land for the project.
Wurtz said they were looking to sign about 36,000 square acres, so they’d have enough ground for the wind farm.
Wurtz said he asked about a timeline for the project. If a landowner signs, the company has three years to build. But the agent said NextEra is a big company with ready access to a lot of equipment so they can move pretty fast if the project is a go.
Washington County Commissioner Gary Ouellette said several landowners have talked to him about the project, but he hasn’t heard directly from the company. He said he knows NextEra and possibly another wind company from Texas have been in the Register of Deeds office and that they’ve been very professional.
Ouellette said his constituents have mostly had questions about the wind farm and what it might mean for their area, so he had a lot of questions planned for Monday’s commission meeting. He said he hoped a project would have benefits for the county, though he realized Kansas has a tax exemption for wind turbines.
A law enacted by the Kansas legislature in 1999 to encourage wind development in Kansas exempted wind farms from property taxes for the life of the project. However, in 2015, the legislature changed the law, ending the life-time exemption for new projects started after Jan. 1, 2017. New projects will receive a property tax exemption for 10 years, and will then pay full property taxes starting in the 11th year.
Existing projects or projects under construction will continue to receive the lifetime exemption.
Most wind farms do a payment in lieu of taxes locally, whether it be to the county, school district or other effort. Cloud County receives funds (above $300,000 per year) for economic development, for example.
While lease paper information is already being distributed, Republic County Economic Development Director Luke Mahin said landowners should consider all the information about leasing land to wind farms before signing any papers.
Republic County Economic Development is planning a landowner meeting regarding wind farm development at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 6 with Kansas Farm Bureau’s Legal Foundation Director Mike Irvin and a representative from the North Central Regional Planning Commission.
Mahin said Irvin has been involved with landowners and wind farm development in the past, so he will present information, tips and procedures while dealing with the development.
Area wind farms
NextEra is based in Juno Beach, Fla., and is the nation’s largest owner and operator of US wind generating facilities. The company has more than 100 wind facilities in operation in North America, including some in Kansas, capable of producing 11,300 megawatts of electricity. NextEra owns and operates the Steele Flats wind farm north of Hanover, between Steele City and Odell, Neb.
Jefferson and Gage Counties, Neb.
Richardson County, Neb.
Marshall (under construction)