By Duane Schrag
A 98-turbine wind farm that is to be located between Oxford and Wellington is moving forward after Sumner County officials last month signed an agreement with Wild Winds Energy Project LLC that would give the county upwards of $1 million a year in lieu of taxes.
The project has a lifetime waiver from property taxes because it obtained a conditional use permit for the project from Sumner County in October 2016, months before state law was changed to limit property tax exemptions for such projects to just 10 years.
Without an exemption, Wild Winds Energy Project would have incurred a property tax bill of an estimated $117 million over 30 years, or an average of nearly $4 million per year.
Sumner County issued the permit even though the wind developer’s application did not contain a plan for decommissioning the turbines, or an agreed-upon financial guarantee. Rather, the developer promised to enter an appropriate agreement and provide financial assurances at some time in the future.
County regulations state that among the documents that “shall be submitted at the time of the application” are “a decommissioning plan describing the manner in which the [project] will be dismantled and removed from the site at the end of its useful life” and “an Escrow Account/Surety Bond/Insurance Policy in an amount approved by the Board of County Commissioners.”
County Clerk Debra Norris said in an email last week that no decommissioning agreement has yet been submitted for the commission’s consideration.
Annual payments to the county will start at $750,000, and increase by 1.5% each year. According to the schedule contained in the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (or PILOT) agreement, the total to be paid to Sunmer County over the course of 30 years would be $28.2 million.
In addition to the payments to Sumner County, three school districts are to each receive $25,000 annually under the PILOT agreement: Belle Plaine USD 357, Oxford USD 358 and Wellington USD 353.
A spokesman for Tradewind Energy, the parent company of Wild Winds Energy Project, declined to answer questions about when construction is to begin, how long it will take, and how much it will cost. Current estimates are that commercial wind projects cost about $1.5 million per megawatt of generating capacity, or a total cost of about $450 million for this project.
According to Tradewind’s website, the 300 MW project will encompass about 25,000 acres and involve around 120 landowners.
Sumner County officials also signed a second agreement with Wild Winds Energy Project on Feb. 12. Under the agreement, Wild Winds will post a $3 million guarantee that roads will be returned to the condition they were in before project construction started. All non-passenger construction-related equipment will be allowed only on specified routes.
In March 2018, Wild Winds Energy Project asked the FAA to review the placement of 98 wind turbines on either side US-160 between Oxford and I-35. The proposed height of the turbines is 660 feet – the tallest so far approved in Kansas, and 30 feet taller than the St. Louis Arch.
The FAA determined in August 2018 that the turbines are not a hazard to aircraft.