PAXTON — For the second time in a month, the Ford County Board voted Monday night to place a moratorium on granting any future wind farm permits until the county’s permitting ordinance is reviewed.
Last month’s vote was taken without the specific action listed on the agenda for the meeting, so it was deemed invalid. But this time, the measure is legally binding.
That means that there is now a 120-working day moratorium on issuing any new special-use permits for wind farms until the county’s ordinance for wind energy conversion systems (WECS) is studied and updated. The board also wants to address gaps in current requirements and insert language that is concurrent with new technology, such as much taller windmills. The current ordinance was established in 2009.
Legal or not, the board’s action last month sent out a loud message to the “wind world,” according to industry official Erin Baker. Her company, Apex Clean Energy, has already spent $2.5 million developing the Ford Ridge Wind Farm, a 125-megawatt wind energy project in western Ford County in the Gibson City/Sibley area.
Baker, the firm’s senior development manager, told the board her company hopes to see “regulatory certainty.”
“We want to continue under the same conditions that brought us here,” Baker said.
Baker said the company is doing preconstruction surveying and hopes to break ground in spring 2019.
“We want to earn your trust,” Baker told the board.
The problems with television interference for residents living within the footprint of the Kelly Creek Wind Farm in the northern part of the county was the impetus for the board’s action. Baker said such interference is rare, but she acknowledged that it occurs, so her company will perform a baseline survey on television and internet reception prior to construction.
Some 20 people attended Monday’s meeting. That included Kempton-area residents with reception problems and numerous officials with EDF Renewable Energy, which owns the Kelly Creek Wind Farm.
EDF’s Sylvia Gibson is the manager of the wind farm, though she is not onsite. Gibson introduced Tony Fairley, the wind technician who is onsite daily at the wind farm’s operations and maintenance building in Cabery.
Gibson said residents with any problem can contact Fairley and he will forward to her their concerns. Gibson apologized for not making it clear that once the wind farm was operational a year ago, she was the go-to person, different from the person who was in charge of development and construction.
“We notified the lease holders but not the residents and the board. We do have a presence here. We want a good reputation,” Gibson said.
Gibson noted that residents with interference problems have recently received a fourth offer from the company to remedy their problems.
Another issue with the Kelly Creek Wind Farm has been restoring the township and county roads per agreement. Ford County Highway Engineer Greg Perkinson and Rogers Township Road Commissioner Leo Weber are not satisfied that EDF has done what it was supposed to do under the agreement.
The local officials are concerned with the steep slope of some of the re-done roads. But Gordon Ware, who has been overseeing the work, said he thinks the roads are in great shape and that landowners and farmers moving their equipment are pleased with the wider and sturdier roadways.
Gibson said EDF was somewhat blind-sided when the company was notified last week that the slope of the roads didn’t pass muster.
“The roads had been signed off on, and we felt we had addressed the majority of the concerns,” Gibson said.
Jon Baker, an EDF project developer, acted as spokesman for the company. He said the negotiations with unhappy residents took longer than preferred, but he said some residents have indicated their satisfaction because Baker said the company “is meeting them more than halfway.”
“We are more than compensating them,” he said.
He emphasized the company has spent $14 on the project and that the Tri-Point school district will see $1 million in new property tax revenue.