The Lyon County Commission heard from a representative from RES Americas on a potential wind energy farm project in Reading during an action session Thursday.
"This will not be completed in 2016,” Jeff Sabins, vice president, said. “But the scope of work we need to pursue is far more limited than putting turbines in the ground.”
The potential wind farm is hardly an unfamiliar topic for the Lyon County commission. Originally proposed in 2008, the company leased about 20,000 acres near Reading in 2010, but plans fell through in 2011. Work on the project began again in 2015.
“We’re currently in years one through two,” Sabins said. “We’ve gone out and met with the community and leased land. We’ve stood up two (meteorological) towers and those ‘met’ towers are measuring wind speeds and (we can) secure financing based on that information. So those two pieces are done.”
Sabins said a lot of the elements of the project are still undecided — like the type of turbines which will be used — and it would feature anywhere between 60 and 100 towers.
“We have roughly 20,000 acres that are under lease,” he said.
According to Sabins, environmental studies are currently taking place, studying the plant and animal life in the area to make sure the project is in compliance with U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife requirements.
Sabins also said wind has been “declared competitive” in the marketplace and over the next five years, subsidies from the federal government will “fall off” to zero. According to Sabins, the company has the opportunity to secure financial credits before that happens.
“The IRS has spelled it out very clearly that what we need to do in order to secure those is start of construction,” he said. “We’ve gone through that process before, and what that means is we need to dig turbine foundation holes ... additionally we need to run roads — of roughly one to two miles in length — and we need to maintain those roads.”
The roads would be owned and maintained by RES Americas.
“As dealing with the federal government sometimes doesn’t make sense, this doesn’t make complete logical sense that we would do this roughly a year ahead of actually being out there to fully construct the project,” Sabins said. “But this is what we need to do in order to comply guidance and keep the project competitive with other projects in the area.
“That’s the question. What process needs to be in place to do that kind of work?”
According to Lyon County zoning administrator Sam Seeley, the normal zoning process for a wind plant takes about two months.
“But if somebody wants to build a road on their land — or dig a hole — no one is really going to stop that,” Seeley said. “The only thing that I would suggest is that — if you start doing those things — is that there is some sort of reclamation bond in there so the landowner is protected that if those things are dug or done — and nothing ever happens — that they can be put back to the way the landowner would like it to be.”
Seeley recommended caution going forward on the project.
“There can’t be a guarantee of zoning without the zoning process,” he said. “If we jump ahead, we risk ruining the project completely if we jump ahead the wrong way.”
According to Sabins, it is more beneficial to the county if building begins in 2016.
“The landowners will be — I think — either way will be the same,” he said. “The county has the ability to have less money funneled through the state and back to the county and more of it goes directly (to the county).”
Commissioner Dan Slater said the project is good for the landowners and the taxpayers, as long as the project gets done.
“It’s good for the landowners because they’re going to be drawing rent,” he said. “It’s good for the taxpayers of our county because it’s going to raise additional tax money off in the future ... so it’s a win-win situation. It’s just a matter of getting it done in a correct way.