Developer continues effort to bring wind farm to county

Staff writer

The developer of a proposed wind farm in Marion County compares his quest to a hurdle race — none of the hurdles is insurmountable, but all it takes is one to trip over.

“Everything takes longer, costs more, and is more difficult than you expected,” said Rex Savage of Windborne Energy, who is planning a wind farm south of 140th Road, north of U.S. 50, east of Pawnee Road, and west of U.S. 77.

The proposed wind farm would be in an existing wind-energy district established by the county.

Savage began studying the possibility of a wind farm in 2002. A study of how the project would affect birds has been conducted but is awaiting peer review, Savage said.

Several steps remain before construction of the farm could begin, including:

  • Finalizing the bird study.
  • Receiving zoning approval.
  • Acquiring financing.
  • Establishing infrastructure to get electricity to users.
  • Finding a power company to buy the electricity.

Prospects might sound pessimistic, Savage said, but he thinks the effort is worth it.

If all remaining steps are completed quickly, construction could begin in about a year, but it probably will take a couple of years before construction can begin.

Marion County requires a development plan for any commercial wind farm. The development plan must address:

  • Land use.
  • Noise.
  • Endangered species.
  • Soil erosion.
  • Public health and safety.
  • Magnetic fields associated with transmission lines.
  • Aviation.
  • Cultural heritage.
  • Visual affect.
  • Bird migration and strikes.
  • Wildlife habitat.
  • Water quality.
  • Infrastructure
  • Removal and reclamation when the development reaches the end of its useful life.
  • Bond agreement.
  • Reception interference.
  • Native vegetation and weeds.

“Our regulations right now are extremely stringent,” Planning and Zoning Director Tonya Richards said.

Marion County Commission signed a letter July 12 reaffirming support for development of wind power in the district.

Savage lives within the area of the proposed wind farm.

“I’m not proposing anything I’m not willing to live with,” he said.

Meanwhile, residential wind power is moving into the county.

Tim and Mindy Richmond installed a wind turbine in November at their rural Hillsboro home.

They make a conscious effort to reduce energy use and wanted to get a turbine to reduce their dependence on coal-produced electricity even more.

Obtaining a permit for the turbine wasn’t too difficult, Mindy Richmond said. The turbine is close enough to neighbors’ homes that they had to get a variance, but the neighbors didn’t oppose their efforts.

The turbine on top of a 45-foot tower has little idle time, she said. Several months the Richmonds have contributed more electricity to the grid than they have used.

“We love it,” she said. “We absolutely love it.”

Richards is one of the neighbors that gave their consent for the Richmonds’ variance. Her house is far enough away that they can’t hear the turbine.

“We like to look at it and watch it,” Richards said. “We explain it to our kids.”

The planning commission is reviewing rules governing residential turbines with the intention of easing permit requirements, Richards said.

Current rules require a turbine be at least 50 feet farther from a property line than the height of the tower and 1,000 feet from the nearest residential building. If a turbine doesn’t meet those requirements, the property owner must apply for a variance.

The planning commission is considering allowing residential wind turbines with a conditional-use permit, which is easier to receive than a variance, Richards said.

 

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