Wind farm to be economic boon

2/17/2012

Grant, Haskell and Finney counties to benefit from project.

Grant, Haskell and Finney counties to benefit from project.

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

A wind farm project that is likely to be a huge economic boon for Grant and Haskell counties may generate significant dividends in Finney County, too.

Known as the Buffalo Dunes Wind Project, the 405-megawatt wind farm is being developed by Lenexa-based TradeWind Energy and has the potential to be a $600 million development and generate enough power to serve as many as 120,000 homes at full capacity.

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.

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, according to Brice Barton, a development manager with TradeWind.

Barton said the transmission lines will come into southern Finney County from Haskell County.

Once the company finalizes a power purchase agreement, it is expected to begin construction sometime in mid-March in both Grant and Haskell counties, building roads and digging holes, and on construction of transmission lines in Finney County possibly around May.

Barton, who approached the Finney County Commission during its regular Monday meeting, presented a legal agreement for the board's consideration that outlines TradeWind's plans to make annual payments in lieu of taxes to Finney County.

Better known as PILOT agreements, Kansas statutes allow many renewable energy systems, such as wind farms, to be exempt from property taxes for the lifetime of the project in order to promote development.

Similarly, transmission lines that are more than 5 miles in length and meet other size and system specifications also are exempt from property taxes for a duration of their first 10 years of operation, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue.

Barton told commissioners that his company is willing to pay Finney County $500 per megawatt of power installed on an annual basis, as part of a PILOT agreement with Finney County.

That legal agreement, which commissioners said they would consider for approval before the end of the month, could generate about $105,000 for Finney County in its first year, if and when TradeWind installs the first phase of its project: just under 210-megawatts in capacity, enough power for about 63,000 Kansas homes.

"We're building a (transmission) highway big enough, just not putting in all the wind turbines in right now," Barton told commissioners at Monday's meeting.

The $500 per megawatt amount is expected to increase 2 percent each year, and generate even more revenue for Finney County if and when the wind farm grows in size, as well.

Commissioners were receptive to the PILOT agreement offered by TradeWind.

"I don't see a problem, but we do need to run it by our attorney," Commission Chairman Don Doll said Monday, speaking on behalf of the group.

Both Haskell and Grant county commissioners have approved PILOT agreements with TradeWind Energy, as well, which are expected to generate huge sources of revenue for the respective counties.

Both agreements are set to deliver $3,750 per megawatt of operation per year to each county.

According to Grant County officials, the county is expected to receive about $350,000 in TradeWind's first year of operation, based on the company's first 210-megwatt phase.

The Grant County Commission unanimously approved its PILOT and road maintenance agreements with Tradewind at its Feb. 6 meeting, according to Grant County Clerk Sheila Brown.

The Haskell County Commission also has approved a PILOT agreement with TradeWind, according to Haskell County Clerk Sharon Hinkle. Barton said the commission also approved road maintenance agreements on Monday.

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