LYNDON—The Osage County Board of Commissioners hosted Jeff Sabins, vice president of Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Americas, for discussion on the progress of a two-megawatt wind farm near Reading.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, we’re putting together a wind farm that’s in both Lyon and Osage counties,” Sabins said. “There’s some specific timelines for state legislation. The state offers tax abatements if conditional use permits are in place this year.”
Sabins told commissioners the process was early, but that land leases were under way. The company had constructed two meteorological (MET) towers, and would be completing a year-long study on wind conditions at the site in spring 2017.
“That’s what we’re doing right now,” Sabins said. “We’re measuring those to greater specificity. As you might guess, some towers do better in different wind conditions.”
Sabins said the exact layout and the turbines selected for the site would be based on the study.
“Depending on the type of turbine we buy, it’ll be something between 60-100 towers,” Sabins said.
The project was originally slated to begin in 2008, but plans were put on hold in 2011. The company began restarting the project in 2015.
“We knew the market was going to move toward eastern Kansas, because of transmission restraints,” Sabins said. “The last time we were out here, we were correct in the assessment of where the market is going, we were just five to six years ahead of the market. We see now in the market, people are really excited about projects in Kansas. It’s a little less windy, but you don’t have the challenges of Western Kansas.”
The project is divided between the two counties, with about 25 percent of the turbines planed to be located in Osage County. The plant will transfer power to the grid through a substation located northeast of Emporia.
“We have land that is leased, that will largely determine where they would go,” Sabins said. “We’ve gone out and leased all the good windy land we can find. If we leased the land, there’s a pretty good shot there’s a turbine going there.”
Sabins said a preliminary map would not be available until around six months before the start of construction. The locations of turbines also affects which routes and roads will be used by trucks and traffic related to the construction of the wind farm.
“We will know what road we’ll be using, what hall routes we’ll be using,” Sabins said. “Once again, that depends on what turbine we use. If we buy Siemen’s turbines, they come from one place; a different turbine, they come from another direction.”
He said those things would take place during the third year of the four-year production timeline. The company is currently in between years one and two.
“We‘ve started environmental studies,” Sabins said. “We’re counting birds, tracking bats, looking at all that type of stuff. We have the land we need, so that piece is put together.
“We’ve begun interconnectional studies, which is the long process of plugging into the grid,” Sabins said. “Now were’ talking about county permitting, which is why I’m here.”
Commissioners encouraged Sabins to continue permit discussion with Becky Bartley, land use coordinator. Bartley said the process could be completed in as little as three weeks.
Sabins said the company was planning to complete required permitting and initial construction to qualify for federal and state tax abatements, which begin to sunset in 2017.
“We’re doing the processes to qualify,” Sabins said. “You have to have some holes dug and roads built to qualify by the end of 2016.”
The abatements include a federal break, which decreases by 20 percent each of the next five years, as well as a state ad-velorum property tax credit.
“Right now, there is no property tax on wind farms,” Sabins said. “Beginning in 2017, for any project that does not have COP projects in 2016 – that exemption goes from forever to 10 years.”
Basins said RES typically pays the counties directly to compensate for the tax loss.
“At the end of the day, we’re ok with paying some tax,” Sabins said. “We can afford to bring you a bigger donation if we’re not paying that to the state.”
Sabins also addressed county concerns over road use and dust control.
“We’re bringing a lot of money into the communities,” Sabins said. “We’re doing good things. We’re certainly not going to leave the roads worse than we came.”
Kuykendall said the county would also work to expedite and mirror the process with Lyon County as much as possible.
“We’ve typically always got along,” Kuykendall said. “We talked about this last time, about how we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel in both counties. We’re sure willing to work with them in trying to make everything as similar as possible.”
“I’ll do my best to facilitate that process,” Sabins said. “We’ll end up in a stage we we’re actively marketing and trying to sell energy from the project.”
“It’s probably to our benefit to get this worked out this year,” Kuykendall said.
Commissioners also hosted a brief discussion with Rob Runquist, director of Crosswinds Counseling and Wellness Center, formerly the Mental Health Center of East-Central Kansas.
“You know about the name change and everything,” Runquist said. “We’ve had more people calling and taking services. It’s almost like they didn’t realize that we’re there.”
Runquist said the center is working to provide more hours at the location.
“There was a study that shows people will travel 17 miles to get medical and psychiatric services,” Runquist said. “That was kind of our thinking in going out to the satellite offices in the first place. By doing four or five satellite offices, somebody will be there all the time.”
Runquist also discussed anticipated Medicaid cuts by the state.
“There are some mental health centers that are going to cost about a $1 million a year,” Runquist said. “That could be a $3-400,000 hit for us.”
He said that paired poorly with an increased reliance on the center’s services.
“First three months this year we provided 22,000 more services, with 10 fewer employers,” Runquist said. “We just need to go back and ask our counties for more money.”
“We know the good you do,” Kuykendall said. “I hope we’re at we can stay where we’re at.”
“That’s all we hope you do,” Runquist said. “The zero payment from the state is not working. We’re looking for other sources, private funding, charities and trying to go that route. The tax money is drying up.”
On other business, the county:
• approved hiring of Randy Lowe for $14 per hour as a part-time lake patrol office.
• approved emergency vehicle designation for Keith Schattak, Lyndon.
• approved a 10-year, 25 cent raise for Robert Rissen; a one-year, 89 cent raise for Derrick Whalen; and one-year, 42-cent raises for Shawn Crettol, Ron Reece and Jeff Spencer.
• heard from Glen Tyson, road and bridge supervisor, that resurfacing work north of Burlingame was scheduled to begin June 8.
• conducted a 15-minute executive session with Pat Walsh, county counselor, and Vaugh Burkholder, attorney, with the option to bring in Rhonda Beets, county clerk. The session was extended 10 minutes.
• approved permits for fireworks displays July 2 at Pomona State Park and July 3 at Royal Pines.
• approved $750 for printing costs for the Osage County Guide.
• directed Beets to contact Laurie Dunn, sheriff, concerning security issues at the courthouse.
(Photo Jeremy Gaston/File Photo - Plans are under way for a two-megawatt wind farm along the Lyon-Osage county line near Reading. The farm will include 60 to 100 turbines, similar to the recently completed Waverly Wind Farm, located just south of Osage County, pictured above during construction last fall.)