O'Brien County's 2nd major wind farm on fast track

Monday, February 9, 2015

Highland II Wind Farm permit filing gearing up

Highland substation - The many components of the complex technical system of converting wind energy to electrical energy is evident as this O'Brien County Highland I Substation under construction reveals. Photo contributed

Since Invenergy's December announcement that their O'Brien County Highland II Wind Energy Center is in an advanced stage of development, the construction permit application and approval phase of the project is rapidly moving forward.

At the Jan. 13th, 2015 supervisor's meeting, County Auditor Barb Rohwer mentioned a phone discussion she had with Highland II project developer Erin Kircher. Kircher discussed the scope of the project and the latest timeline.

"She talked about the expansion with the Highland II project. Invenergy is still saying there'll be 100 to 140 wind turbines in this expansion. They won't be in with their construction permit application until probably mid-March.

They are hoping the new substation required for the wind farm will be somewhere in Lincoln Township near where the new switching substation will be going in.

Rohwer referred to the new MidAmerican Energy Company (MEC) 345,000 volt MVP #3 switching substation that's to connect onto MECs existing 345 kV power line. Site grading and substation construction is to begin this spring. Work on building the 345 kV power line to a new switching substation in Kossuth County will begin then as well.

The MidContinent Independent System Operator (MISO) approved this MVP #3 project in Dec. 2011 as one small part of a $5.6 billion Multi-Value Portfolio of transmission expansion projects that includes 16 other MVPs in MISO's 12-state regional transmission organization.

Executive Director, O'Brien County Economic Development Corporation's Kiana Johnson reported her latest information on January 21st. Johnson said that a private meeting between Invenergy and participating landowners was to be held on Tuesday, Jan. 27th from 4-8 p.m. in Sanborn.

During a lull in budget talks at the Jan. 27th supervisors meeting, Invenergy officials made an unscheduled courtesy call to discuss their proposed Highland II project. Invenergy VP of Development Kevin Parzyck and Project Developer Erin Kircher were here to host landowners at that Sanborn landowners meeting.

"We're in town to talk about the 2nd phase of our project. We wanted to show you the area where we are looking at," Kircher began.

They unfurled a large plan drawing that showed where in Lincoln, Franklin and Summit Townships they've secured landowner easements. Parcels of land shaded green were participating landowners. This drawing did not show proposed wind turbine sites, nor did it show any access road layouts into sites.

A blue line indicated the preliminary footprint for Highland II. Outside the blue line in eastern Floyd Township were several parcels east of the Sheldon airport. Supervisor Nancy McDowell asked, "If someone were located outside the blue line, would they be included in the project?"

Parzyck answered, "It depends on potential connectivity, setbacks and whether one parcel can be connected to other nearby parcels. There's nothing magical about the blue line. We're using parcels acquired by another developer and incorporating them all. Land agents in our office across the street are continuing to sign up landowners and fill in the gaps between the green shaded parcels."

The drawing showed a few parcels in extreme southern Osceola County. Supervisor Jim DeBoom asked, "Are you doing any signing in Osceola County?"

"When we acquired the easements from another wind farm developer, they had a few easements in Osceola County. But, we're focusing in on O'Brien County with this project," reported Kircher. "We're signing more easements and our drawing changes daily. So, we're working to fill in the pieces in the planned project area. We're moving right along."

"Some other things are going on. Our interconnection request on the electric grid is being evaluated in the transmission queue," reported Parzyck. "If you don't know, there was an extension of the production tax credit (PTC) for another year. So, construction has to be done by the end of 2016 to qualify for tax credits. That's kind of juicing the business. So, a lot of people are trying to get things done before it expires. We've got the ability to meet that deadline. The timing is what makes this project desirable.

"The expectation is that Erin has been doing some work in terms of pre-permit application like we've done in the past. We're hoping to be able to come to the County in the very near future."

Supervisor Dan Friedrichsen asked, "Would you need to have the entire system on line by the end of 2016?"

"Technically, you have to be on line by the end of 2016. There's some discussion about that going on and some think you might extend beyond 2016. This is all based on IRS guidance. And the general IRS guidance has been you needed to either have started construction in 2014, and had continuous construction, or, you could have bought turbines, taken ownership of them and had those available to be on line by the end of 2016.

"That's the general gist of IRS requirements. I caution that there's a lot of discussion around this going on right now with what the IRS guidance requires," said Parzyck, while noting some ambiguity with the PTC intent.

"Could there be more than 140 turbines in this project?" was a follow-up question.

"Our interconnection request for this project is for 250 megawatts (MW)," Parzyck replied.

Rohwer asked, "Will any of the turbines in Summit south of Sanborn get connected to the other substation in Dale?"

"No," answered Parzyck. "Everything in Highland II will come to the new substation right."

"When are you wanting to start construction then?" supervisor Tom Farnsworth questioned. "Do you have a timeline?"

"Not hard and fast, but we'd be looking potentially at this fall. That would be desirable. We'd start construction this fall with turbine deliveries in 2016," Parzyck indicated. "We've got land surveying going on now. We've got the same company, Stantec, preparing permit application documents."

"Olsson Associates is the same company that did the surveying for the Highland Phase I project," Kircher added.

Kircher responded to a question the following day about the number of meteorological evaluation towers (MET) Invenergy has in their proposed 60,000 acre wind farm. Kircher reported that there are 3 MET towers in the Highland II project.

At an elevation of 1,559' above sea level, the MET tower in Lincoln Township is located practically on the Buffalo Ridge that runs diagonally through the county. The Buffalo Ridge is the geological feature that drew many wind energy developers to NW Iowa as early as the 1980s and 1990s. Invenergy first came to O'Brien County in 2003.

What this eventually will mean is that in 2013, O'Brien County didn't have any installed MW of wind generation. By the end of 2016, well over 300 wind turbines could be installed and generating 750 MW of power.

Invenergy anticipates having another meeting where they'll explain to the general public Highland II project and answer questions. After that public meeting is held, then Invenergy can submit their Highland II construction permit application. That seems to confirm Invenergy's intent to file for that permit in mid to late March.

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