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Board rules finance for wind farm doesn't belong in regulations

Zoning recommendation sends question to county commissioners

News editor

If Marion County wants proof someone will buy electricity from the Doyle Creek wind farm project, Planning and Zoning Commission members said Thursday it’s someone else’s job to require it.

The commission voted to strike a clause from zoning regulations that required evidence of a power purchase agreement (PPA) before issuing building permits, asserting finance issues fall outside the commission’s responsibilities for regulating land use.

“I know when I read that regulation, it didn’t make any sense to me,” commission member Jeff Bina said. “What other manufacturing do we require that? As far as I’m concerned, I’d be in favor of totally getting rid of the regulation.”

After about 30 minutes of discussion, Bina so moved and the commission voted unanimously to forward the recommendation to the county commission for approval.

At a November meeting of the planning and zoning board, Rex Savage of Windborne Energy said a potential buyer was considering a proposed PPA, but no deal has been finalized.

Ros Vrba, Sunwind Energy Group project manager for the Doyle Creek wind farm, said wind farms have other options besides PPAs. Some wind farms don’t have a primary customer, but instead sell electricity on a commodities market, similar to how wheat and oil is sold. Large corporations with diverse portfolios, such as Google or Apple, can invest in wind farms as tax shelters, he said.

“A PPA is something that’s preferred, but it’s not something that’s required,” Vrba said.

Consultant David Yearout said no other Kansas counties require wind farms to submit proof of a PPA. The specificity of the county’s regulation could be a problem if another financing method is used.

“The facility can get developed and a PPA might not be the driving force behind it,” Yearout said. “It could be Google, Yahoo, or Facebook deciding to shelter some tax money in Marion County by doing that.

“Is it proper for the county to be sitting there saying, ‘We’re going to hold a permit until we see this document,’ which may not even be relevant to the case?”

Savage also addressed the issue of required financial safeguards incorporated into the wind farm proposal.

“The county commission has required a performance bond be put in place before major construction starts, to provide surety that should somebody fail partway along that the county and the landowners are protected for either finishing or cleaning up,” Savage said.

Bob Gayle of Florence raised a concern about the ability of citizens to respond to issues in the meeting without knowing specific details about a proposal until they are heard in a meeting.

“Is it possible to have another couple of weeks to review what you’re talking about here and be able to present something that’s substantive to the board?” he said.

Planning and Zoning Director Tonya Richards responded that she, board members, and county commissioners are available prior to meetings to contact with questions, and that all information about planning and zoning issues is public information.

Last modified April 9, 2015

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