Rex Savage spent the past decade working toward the answer to one question: Can a wind farm be built in Marion County?
With county conditional use permits approved and land use agreements in place, the answer is now “Yes it can.” That begets more questions, the biggest of which are these: Will it be built, and when?
“The timeline has stretched out some,” Savage said. “We’d originally hoped to be in full construction right now.”
Instead, excavated sites for three tower pads along 120th Rd. are the only evidence something is in the works. Windborne and Sunwind Energy Group LLC, which has contracted to purchase, build, and operate the wind farm, have continued to refine the number and placement of wind turbines for the most efficient generation of electricity.
“Right now they’re saying late summer, early fall this year, and that the actual construction cycle, if they don’t hit bad weather, should be about 120 days,” Savage said.
The project got a cushion recently for any unforeseen delays from Congress, which passed an extension for wind power tax credits, Savage said. The wind farm now has until the end of 2016 to be operational and qualify for the credits.
The final configuration of towers depends in part on who will buy the wind farm’s electricity, Savage said.
“Seventy-three are staked at the moment, with the possibility of doing 23 or 24 more,” Savage said.
At an October meeting of the county planning commission, Savage said he had a company that was reviewing a power purchase proposal. As of Tuesday, that proposal had yet to be signed, and Savage said that while it remains on the table he’s actively exploring other options.
“It’s a little like marketing natural gas, if you can get it into a pipeline, there’s a place to sell it,” Savage said.
Construction financing draws upon numerous sources, and one of the lenders tapped by Sunwind Energy is TelexFree, currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The $1.8 billion filing Feb. 3 for the company, accused of operating a pyramid scheme that pulled in a million participants, lists a $2 million loan to “Sunwind Energy Doyle North, LLC,” which is described in the filing as one of “a number of affiliates and subsidiaries” of TelexFree.
Savage said he hadn’t personally inspected the Sunwind Energy’s books, but was aware of the issue. His concern, he said, is that development continues to move forward, and if it does, the TelexFree link shouldn’t be problematic.
“As long as they (Sunwind Energy) successfully complete the project, it is my understanding that they have no ongoing problems relating to the difficulties of the originator of the loan,” Savage said.
Concern was expressed at a recent county commission meeting that the roads to be used for transporting the massive towers, blades, and motors have yet to be specified. Savage said those will be determined when configuration of the towers is finalized.
The road agreement drafted by the county, created from similar agreements for other wind farms, accommodates this, Savage said, and includes a video survey of all roads specified before construction begins. Sunwind Energy will pay for any necessary pre-construction upgrades to roads and bridges, as well as ongoing maintenance and restoration work.
“I think 120th is likely to be a main haul road,” Savage said. “They asked us to stay off Sunflower Rd. except for crossing, and that’s wise of them. That’s been relayed to the engineers.”
Sunwind Energy has already upgraded the gravel along 120th Rd. where the three tower excavations are, and Savage said many roads will benefit from additional upgrades.
Savage is long past ready for the wind farm to be finished.
“I’d like to live long enough before expiring of old age to see it operating,” he said. “If we don’t get it built, you probably won’t ever see a wind farm built in Marion County.”