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Wind farm proposed in Hoard, Mayville

Wind farm proposed in Hoard, Mayville Wind farm proposed in Hoard, Mayville

By Kevin O’Brien

An energy company is interested in establishing a wind farm in northeast Clark County that promises to generate millions in revenue for local residents and governments, but first, the firm needs to find enough landowners willing to lease their land for up to 70 turbines.

Eric Crawford, a wind development manager for RWE Renewable Americas, spoke to the Mayville town board last week Tuesday about the proposed wind farm, and also faced some tough questions from those in the audience who are skeptical about the firm’s intentions.

Crawford tried to assure residents in attendance that RWE’s track record — with 25 operating wind farms across the United States — shows that it can be trusted.

“We’re not some fly-by-night company” he said. “We are a very well-established, reputable energy firm.”

RWE is “very early” in the process of developing a local wind farm, he said, and representatives have only been in the area for a few weeks, speaking to landowners about the firm’s plans.

“We’re not a utility, we don’t have eminent domain, so everything we do is 100 percent voluntary” he said. “The only way we’re able to do it is if we share information and work corroboratively with the community that hosts them.”

The Clark wind farm, as it is referred to by RWE, is expected to generate $26 million in tax revenue for Clark County and the towns of Mayville and Hoard, according a “Wind Energy 101” pamphlet distributed by RWE.

In addition, landowners who sign lease agreements for a wind turbine to be placed on their property are offered a guaranteed payment plus royalties based on the company’s revenues.

See WIND FARM/ Page 10 Crawford said the company will pay $2,500 per megawatt, and with each turbine expected to generate between three and five megawatts, farmers and other landowners can expect to reap between $7,500 and $12,500 per year.

All together, the wind farm is projected to provide at least $1.3 million in direct payments to local landowners every year, according to the company’s literature.

“Since the wind farm is expected to operate for 30 years, these payments can last well into retirement or even help the next generation manage and work your farm or property,” RWE states.

Besides the turbines themselves, RWE will put in access roads so that company maintenance crews can reach the turbines “in nearly all conditions.” The landowners are also welcome to use the roads themselves.

“Since these roads are build to accommodate our construction vehicles and machinery, you can be sure they’ll support trucks, tractors, combines and many other types of equipment,” the company pamphlet says.

Each turbine and access road will take up a half-acre of land at most, Crawford said, and only one to three turbines will be placed within a square mile.

“The farmer can farm right up to the edge of that,” he said. “But, in exchange for displacing that half-acre of crop, that farmer now gets to add thousands or tens of thousands to the bottom line.”

RWE estimates the project will create at least 150 construction jobs, using local labor if possible, and after construction is complete, eight to 12 permanent employees will operate the system out of a local office.

Under the Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s utility revenue-sharing program, the farm is projected to generate an estimated $26 million in revenue for Clark County and the towns of Mayville and Hoard, with 60 percent going to the county and 40 percent to the townships.

The electricity generated by the turbines will be sold to local electrical utilities, such as Dairyland Power, or directly to larger companies “with large appetites for energy,” Crawford said.

The Clark wind farm is expected to generate up to 400 megawatts of power per year, enough to power 60,000 homes, according to the company.

RWE hopes to connect its underground cables to a 1151 kilovolt line running near Colby and Abbotsford, but “extensive engineering and feasibility studies” need to be done first, the company says.

The company says it takes measures to “responsibly site” its turbines to minimize harm to birds, bats and other wildlife. As a company that also operates everything from coal and gas-powered plants to nuclear and solar power facilities, it acknowledges “there is no perfect energy source.”

Questions and concerns

Town chairman Dennis Engel said he’s been getting a lot of questions from residents about the contracts RWE representatives are bringing to landowners. He asked Crawford for a copy of the contract so the township can have it reviewed by an attorney on behalf of residents.

“I’m sure, if you drew up the contract, it’s very favorable to you and not quite as favorable to the landowners,” Engel said to Crawford. “I’m not saying that is, but that needs to be checked out.”

Engel also said he researched RWE and found it to be a “reputable” company.

Still, town residents at the meeting had a wide range of questions about the proposed wind farm, covering everything from stray voltage to road maintenance and farmland preservation.

When asked about noise and possible health issues, Crawford said the turbines will be erected at least 1,250 feet away from any residence and the distance away from a road will be equal to 110 percent of the turbine’s height. At that distance, he said the sound is “very, very minimal.”

In its pamphlets, RWE says the setbacks also minimize what’s known as “shadow flicker,” a visual disturbance caused when the shadow cast by the turbine briefly passes by the house.

“As a result, we typically only see shadow flicker for a few minutes at most, during sunrise and sunset, when the sun is low in the sky and only during exactly the right conditions and times of year,” the company states.

Crawford, echoing his company’s literature, said there no is evidence that wind turbines cause any health problems.

“Some people just don’t like them for one reason or another,” he said. “They may be annoyed by them, but there are no health issues with wind farms.”

One person in attendance asked about the risk of stray voltage from the company’s underground cables, and Engel emphasized to Crawford that it’s a major concern for those with dairy cows.

Crawford said his company is mandated by the state to do an analysis before and after construction to make sure that stray voltage won’t be an issue. He said the cables are insulated to prevent voltage from leaking out.

“Stray voltage should not be a concern,” he said.

Some of the most pointed questions at last week’s meeting came from Fred Schindler, a member of the Clark County Board of Supervisors who represents Mayville and Hoard on the board.

Schindler said he has previous experience dealing with a proposed wind farm in central Clark County, and he considers the company’s 55-page contract “extremely one-sided” in favor of the energy company. He pointed out one provision that prevents the landowner from suing RWE “for any reason” and another that allows the company to pull out of the agreement at any time while the landowner must commit to 37 years.

“Why do you have people running around with a 55-page contract and telling them to hurry up and sign up in a month? They don’t know what they’re signing,” Schindler said.

Crawford said the company’s contract is based on its experiences in establishing 25 other wind farms over the past decade. He said numerous hurdles can emerge in the early stages of a project that can make it no longer viable.

“We do need the ability to terminate the project,” he said. “This would really only happen during development.”

If that were to be happen, Crawford said the landowner would be released from any and all obligations under the contract. RWE’s preference is to proceed with any project that it deems profitable, he said, but the company does need to safeguard its interests.

“We do need to protect ourselves,” he said.

Schindler also questioned whether landowners would be fairly compensated for the use of their land and whether the turbines would create financial burdens for those with acreage in farmland preservation. He said the cost of withdrawing from farmland preservation is $645 per acre, so that could potentially cost farmers thousands.

Crawford said his understanding is that only the turbine and the access road would need to be withdrawn from farmland preservation, and if this were not the case, RWE will negotiate with the county’s land conservation department.

RWE will reimburse any landowner for any unintended costs associated with the turbines, he said, including any increases in property taxes or loss of farmland revenue.

“We don’t want there to be any negative financial impact to the landowner,” he said.

Resident Matt Derrico expressed concerns about the project’s impact on local road conditions, as it would involve a lot of heavy machinery.

Crawford said RWE will upgrade the roads before the project begins and restore them to their original condition or better after the work is done.

Ultimately, Engel said he would like the township to take a closer look at the contract before weighing in on whether it’s a good deal for local landowners.

“You can stand here and promise everything from the moon and back, and it doesn’t mean anything if it’s not in that contract, correct?” he asked.

Crawford asked everyone for patience in letting the process play out, and said his company plans to continue having both one-on-one conversations with landowners and community outreach meetings with local officials. If all goes as planned and enough residents agree to participate, MRE would like to break ground in 2024, he said.

“This project represents more than a $200 million investment for us,” he said. “We’re very serious about it.”