In a three to two vote, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors past a resolution conditionally approving the wind energy conversion system site plan review and approval application for permit during their regular meeting on Tuesday, October 24, as well as discussing and acting on the decommission agreement.
Palo Alto County Attorney Peter Hart read through the decommissioning agreement, which explained what is expected if a turbine is out of commission or the company files bankruptcy.
"Do you guys have any questions for Peter?" Supervisor Keith Wirtz asked. "Everything is in there that we want?"
"It has in it (the decommissioning agreement) for $33,480 per turbine," Bertha Mathis, resident stated. "That's Invenergy's estimate. Was any other estimate looked at or any other company looked at for that? Cause that seems awful low to me because everything I've been reading, scrap metal is not selling like they're estimating and I would think that needs to be a little higher."
"Good point. If you look at number four, this is reviewed annually," Hart replied. "If the estimates of scrape metal are down then we would raise this amount. It's not carved in stone. It's flexible and will be reviewed every year."
"The other question I had about it is Invenergy is not going to be owning it; they are going to sell it off immediately to MidAmerican," Mathis said. "Then they [MidAmerican] will be the owner/operator. So why is contract with Invenergy. Is it transferrable?"
Hart explained that the decommissioning agreement was assignable and with the approval or disapproval of the Board it will be assigned.
"Why is MidAmerican not the one who applied for the project?" Mathis asked. "Why is it Invenergy if MidAmerican is going to be the owner/operator? As per Mr. Taylor [an attorney from Cedar Rapids] he said that is in violation of your ordinance. Your ordinance says that it has to be the owner/operator. Invenergy, in many documents have said they are not."
"This industry this is kind of how this works," Mike Fehr, MidAmerican Energy began. "There is a lot of money pit into a development by a company that is an expertise in development. The bring the development to a certain stage so they are in fact the owner of all this stuff and they are the operator prior to when it is assigned to someone like MidAmerican to take ownership."
"I recommend that you conditionally approve this decommissioning agreement if the vote at 9:00 a.m. is approving it or if not approved then it [the decommissioning agreement] is not approved," Hart stated.
The recommendation was unanimously approved.
"I wanted to know why you went into closed session last week?" Lois Stillman, resident and landowner questioned.
"Under the Code [Iowa Code] governing bodies are allowed to into closed session to discuss strategy with counsel where litigation has been filed or is imminent," Hart responded. "And with the lawsuit that has been filed, we felt that it was justified under Chapter 21 and those are the reasons we went into closed session."
"And the litigation is with whom?" Stillman inquired.
"Litigation is Mathis, Stillman, Egland, Redding versus Invenergy, MidAmerican and Palo Alto Wind," Hart answered.
So ok, thank you," Stillman said. "We have the right to know what closed session was and what the statement was that was made about that."
"It's closed to discuss strategy and to reveal strategy would put the parties a disadvantage or potential parties at a disadvantage," Hart said.
Stillman went on to discuss sound studies and how low frequency noise is as harmful as higher frequencies asking the Supervisors individually if they had read articles presented. She also stated that the application does not comply with written regulations as stated in the ordinance.
She requested that the application be rejected and vote no.
Bertha Mathis read a statement sent by Janna Swanson, who was unable to attend. The statement listed several reasons this project should not pass. Questions were asked, concerning wildlife, the ecosystem, homes and people, to the Board.
"I spent two hours a day, Bertha calling people for six weeks. I didn't get it off the Internet, Bertha," Supervisor Linus Solberg began.
"I'm asking you," Mathis started to say.
"I didn't get it off the Internet. Let me talk," Solberg said. "I didn't get it off the Internet. I called inside every one of these windmills, wind farms and I talked to a lot of people. Not off the Internet. Not this; not that I wanted to talk to actual people."
"That had this density of turbines?" Mathis asked.
Solberg informed Mathis that in Pocahontas County they do have this many.
"I thought you were just reading this for Janna," Supervisor Craig Merrill inquired. "What's all the comments? How can Janna comment if she is not here?
"She's saying she is asking these questions," Mathis replied. "Do you do noise impacts, infrasound, setback, home abandonment from wind turbines?" Vibro acoustic disease, impacts on wildlife, have you looked at all these."
After asking each Supervisor to respond yes or no, Mathis began to ask another question but was stopped by Supervisor Chairman Keith Wirtz when he said, "Bertha, you asked to speak and this is to speak. I don't think it is to sit here and grill us. You have ten minutes to speak."
Mathis continued reading Swanson's statement asking the Supervisor if they knew it was their job to protect the people in the County or if they were selling what belongs to the people.
During the public comment several people spoke both in favor of and against this project.
"As I've said before, the County of Palo Alto has put together a very rigorous ordinance, more rigorous than anywhere else in the State of Iowa," Kevin Parzyck, Vice President of Development with Invernegy noted. "We presented a plan that is in compliance. We worked with landowners and folks in the county to put this together. We are in full compliance with the ordinance. We have presented experts to address any concerns people have raised with regard to our compliance. We thank you for your time. We thank the community for its time and participation and we essentially have pretty much gone over a number of these things and we ask you for your positive consideration this morning."
Supervisor Roger Faulstick made a motion to approve the present site plan with the omission of all turbines west of 470th Ave, siting concerns on the environment and migration routes and also turbines 125 and 126 because of their proximity to the north end of the lake. Solberg seconded the motion. In a roll call vote, the motion was denied two to three with Merrill, Graettinger and Wirtz voting no.
Hart presented a resolution conditionally approving the wind energy conversion system site plan review and approval application for permit including a list of all turbines [1-199] and where they will be located. This did exclude Turbine-81, which has been deleted.
Merrill made the motion to approve the site plan as drawn up and presented by Invenergy with a second coming from Graettinger. In a three to two roll call vote, approval was given to the site plan as presented, with Solberg and Faulstick voting no.
"Ten years from now this is going to make a difference. Fifty years from now this is going o make a difference," Solberg. "This is one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make in my life. No matter which way I vote people are mad on both sides."
Solberg went on to say that when he took this job it was to serve the community and his constituents, trying to be fair to everyone and that although he is not against wind energy, he had to vote no.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, I did not get in on the beginning of this process," Faulstick began. "This accusation that the Supervisors did not do their research couldn't be farther from the truth. I am not against wind energy, but I am going to vote no because of my objections to the site plan as existed."