TradeWind project moving forward

10/11/2012

By DEREK THOMPSON

By DEREK THOMPSON

dthompson@gctelegram.com

Phase one of a multi-million dollar wind energy project that is expected to provide a boost to three southwest Kansas counties is picking up speed.

Lenexa-based TradeWind Energy has reached a purchase agreement with Alabama Power Co. to provide low-cost energy to Alabama, the company announced Wednesday.

Known as the Buffalo Dunes Wind Project, construction will take place across about 42,000 acres in Grant, Haskell and Finney counties. The purchase agreement was approved by the Alabama Public Service Commission on Sept. 17, according to a release from TradeWind.

"TradeWind is so pleased to be building a second large project for Alabama Power," Frank Costanza, TradeWind executive vice president of business development, said in the release. "We want to commend the leadership of Alabama Power for its continued commitment to alternative sources of power that can provide direct economic benefit to its customers."

The first phase of the project allows flexibility for construction of a wind project between 200 and 300 megawatts, the release said.

Company officials have been working for at least three years to secure long-term leases for about 40,000 acres of land with private landowners in parts of northeast Grant County and northwest Haskell County, where 100 to 200 wind turbines are to be placed.

An estimated 150 new jobs will be created during the construction phase of the project, with the fully operational project requiring about 15 new full-time workers. Commercial operation is anticipated by December 2013, according to the release.

In the southwest portion of Finney County, overhead transmission lines must be built to hook into a substation located just south of Sunflower Electric Power Corp.'s Holcomb station, TradeWind officials have said. The transmission lines will come into southern Finney County from Haskell County.

In February, Finney County commissioners signed a Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement with TradeWind. Per the agreement, Finney County will receive $500 per megawatt per year from TradeWind, which will increase by 2 percent every year for 10 years. After that period, the company will pay normal property taxes. The county is expected to receive about $105,000 during the first year of the project.

The majority of the Buffalo Dunes Wind Project is set in Haskell and Grant counties. As there is more project development in those counties, TradeWind offered a PILOT agreement of $3,750 per megawatt per year in both counties. County officials have said that payments are estimated in its first year to be $350,000 for Grant County and $500,000 for Haskell County.

It has previously been reported that TradeWind initially had considered Finney County as a site for the project but eventually found stronger wind data measurements in Grant and Haskell counties.

In addition, TradeWind consults with state departments, federal agencies and non-governmental special-interest groups before making final determinations about their projects "as part of corporate policy," Jennifer Dean, TradeWind's environmental studies and permitting manager, has said.

Some of those agencies and groups include the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

In consultations with those groups, TradeWind determined that there were environmental obstacles that would get in the way of placing the turbines in Finney County, company officials have said.

Lona DuVall, president of the Finney County Economic Development Corp., said the Buffalo Dunes Wind Project is a benefit to the region, even though the bulk of the project is in neighboring counties.

"Really, any time we have economic growth in our region, we benefit largely from that. Obviously, being the hub, any time there's income generated within our region we benefit from that greatly, just based on sales tax dollars and so forth," DuVall said.

In a time of economic uncertainty, Haskell County Commissioner Randy Froelich is thankful for the expected revenue from the project.

"There's so many 'ifs' about finances with our government right now. Anything that we can do to generate any kind of income for our county has got to be a plus," Froelich said.

The Haskell County official is not concerned that the wind energy produced in the Sunflower State will power Alabama homes, not Kansas ones.

"Anything that we can sell from Kansas to another state and generate some income in Kansas is a plus, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Martin Long, Grant County commissioner, expressed similar sentiments.

"The fact that they're going to go ahead with it is extremely good news for our county," Long said.

DuVall has worked extensively with TradeWind, and says they're "a good, solid company."

"They take good care of their landowners. I'm excited for them. I think it's a great project," the Finney County economic developer said. "It's unfortunate that we didn't get any towers, but I think it's exciting that we will have at least a transmission line going through and get the payment in lieu of taxes."

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