MidAmerican Energy Discusses Proposal For Wind, Solar Projects In Mills County

Representatives from MidAmerican Energy formally presented their plan for a proposed 400-megawatt wind farm in Mills and Pottawattamie counties during last Tuesday’s meeting of the Mills County Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission.

As reported in The Opinion-Tribune in January, MidAmerican is looking at an area in north central Mills County and south central Pottawattamie to construct the Silver Creek Wind Farm that would include up to 142 turbines as tall as 600 feet.

MidAmerican officials have stressed that the proposal is still in the development stages. The company has notified property owners in and around the area under consideration about the proposal. They are also gauging interest to see if there would be enough landowners who would voluntarily agree to giving MidAmerican an easement for the placement of turbines and underground connection lines in return for financial compensation.
Environmental studies are also being conducted in the area under consideration for the project.

Sara Houlihan, MidAmerican senior project director, made the presentation to planning and zoning board members and about 50 citizens in attendance at the meeting. She said the wind farm would have a projected lifespan of 40 years. She estimated the project would create 300 temporary and up to 12 permanent jobs in the area and generate up to $92 million in landowner lease agreement payments and over $185 million in property tax payments between Mills and Pottawattamie counties.

Houlihan noted that MidAmerican currently has 37 wind projects and more than 3,400 turbines in 32 Iowa counties, generating over 7,100 megawatts of “clean, renewable energy,” enough to serve more than 2.3 million households.

Most of the citizens attending the meeting appeared to be opposed to the project. Of the 10 persons who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, only one voiced support.

Before public comments were heard, P&Z board member Al Hughes noted that the height of the turbines being proposed doesn’t meet regulations in the current county zoning ordinance.

“Any text or anything that gets changes in our ordinance comes through this platform here,” he said. “Basically, our zoning does not allow this to happen at this point. The highest height you’re allowed is 80 foot for a wind tower. So, as of right now, it’s not allowed. If it does become allowed, this board would vote potentially for it and a certain height that MidAmerican requests and then what would happen if it would go to the board of supervisors and they’d also have to approve that. We’re just a filter until it gets to them.”

Two of the citizens speaking against the project were Charity Duey and Karen Seipold.
Duey said she and her husband, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, moved to the area two years ago because Iowa is a “military-friendly” state and they enjoy the view they have from their home.

“He’s going to retire next year and what we wanted to do is find a place where we can raise our four children in peace and in harmony with our community and our neighbors, so it was incredibly shocking for us to receive a letter and find out that there could potentially be a wind farm as far as we can see – 360 degrees around the hill we live on,” she said.
Duey said she has started a petition in opposition of the project.

Seipold expressed concerns about the impact wind and solar projects would have farmland in and around the project area. Once the farmland is gone, it won’t come back she said. She encouraged the board to prevent the project from moving forward.

“With the best of intentions of this green project, they’re going to destroy a lot of green in our county,” she said. “Where are we going to go? We’re not going to produce more farm ground.”

Carol Vinton, a member of the Mills County Board of Supervisors, said she’s from the Walnut area and people who live near the wind farm there “hate it.”

“Let me tell you, you cannot believe the constant humming noise, the blinking of the lights. You sit on your patio and it’s constant,” she said. “It just looks like an alien. Does Walnut like it? They hate it. They hate it completely, but it’s too late.”

Glenwood resident Chris Clayton was the lone wind energy “advocate” to speak during the public comment session. He pointed some of the positive impact MidAmerican’s wind energy effort has had on Iowa and southwest Iowa.

“The Google plant up the road here is one of probably a dozen data server farms in Iowa that have come to Iowa because we have a high percentage of wind energy,” he said. “That data server wouldn’t be here if MidAmerican Energy wasn’t building all the wind turbines across the state.”

He said there is no perfect energy production options, referencing MidAmerican’s power plant south of Council Bluffs.

“We have wind, and you’ve heard all of the negatives about it, well MidAmerican’s other power company here – the coal plant up the road – is in the middle of a massive coal ash project right now to clean out all of the risk to mercury, arsenic and toxic metal contamination that is in the water they have there right off the Missouri River,” he said. “They’re spending hundreds of millions to clean out all of that ash. The ash is also getting into the air. As you pass by that coal plant every day and you see that project going on, that’s a massive clean-up from all of our fossil fuel use.”

Clayton encouraged Mills County to give the project consideration.

“We’re going to need more energy and somebody’s going to need to produce that energy. Wind, solar are the options that are being looked at today.” he said. “To outright reject the idea that Mills County should not produce wind power like 32 other counties in the state of Iowa is really not looking at the opportunity in the future.”

The meeting concluded with MidAmerican Energy representatives addressing some of the statements and questions presented during the public comments.

MidAmerican Senior Vice President Michael Fehr addressed a comment about tax incentives the company has received over the years for their wind farm projects. He said the tax credit dollars are passed on to MidAmerican customers.

“It’s part of the reason that we have some of the lowest rates in the country," he said.

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Mills County Solar Project Also On MidAmerican Energy Radar

In addition to discussing plans for a proposed wind farm in Mills County at last week’s meeting of the Mills County Planning and Zoning Commission, representatives from MidAmerican Energy announced the company’s interest in developing a small solar project in east central Mills County.

“We have a potential solar project that we’ve been looking at for a couple years right now. It’s a small project – 50-megawatt solar project,” Sara Houlihan said. “The potential in-year service is 2023, so next year.”

Houlihan said the proposed solar farm would cover approximately 300 acres and be located on land between Emerson and Hastings near existing MidAmerican transmission lines.

Houlihan said the site for the proposed project has been identified. MidAmerican would purchase the land from a single property owner.

“It’s one landowner that owns all that property,” she said. “We would purchase the ground from this landowner and own the ground in the future.”
An interconnection study is currently underway, she said.

“This is kind of what gives us the go or no go scenario We are working through that study,” she said. “We expect results in August. Based on the interconnect study and the economics, it will let us know whether we can move forward with this project or not.

If we do decide to move forward, the environmental study will kick off and we’ll finalize that project lay-out.”

Houlihan said the project would create five permanent and 100 temporary jobs and generate $59,000 annually in property taxes.

The Opinion-Tribune

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