WEST UNION — At its meeting on Monday, July 8, the Fayette County Board of Supervisors met with representatives from NextEra Energy Resources to discuss its wind-farm project in Fayette County.
NextEra Energy Resources project manager Kimberly Dickey and senior land services representative Adam McDonald attended the meeting. Dickey lives in Linn County and manages projects for NextEra that are in various stages of development supporting project teams in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Southern Minnesota. McDonald is the land agent who is meeting with landowners in Fayette County to gauge their interest in participating in the project and signing what Dickey called “option agreements.”
Also in attendance was Fayette County Engineer Joel Fantz and Kevin Lehs, Hawkeye wind farm project manager.
Dickey opened the conversation by noting that the project is in the very preliminary stages of development. The company had only installed a meteorological tower three or four months ago to measure wind speed, wind direction, and various other data points. This allows the company to evaluate whether or not the Hawkeye area, which it is eyeing for this project, is a good spot to build a wind farm.
“I want to emphasize that it is a very, very early stage and first step in that process,” Dickey told the supervisors. “We have to measure the wind resources first to see if the project is even feasible. We typically take at least a year to gather that data and make a determination whether to move forward into the next phase of wind-farm development.”
At a previous supervisors meeting, Lehs had expressed concerns about the easement contracts that the company was proposing and that some county residents had already signed. McDonald said that they are what the company calls “option agreements” that roll into full lease contracts.
The option agreement a landowner signs is for a three-year term that can be extended by another three years before it is null and void. If NextEra decides to build on the landowners’ property, that option agreement then rolls over into a 50-year lease, with the ability to extend that lease by two consecutive 20-year terms for a total of 90 years. The lease grants an easement to whichever parcels of land are in the lease agreement for the contract’s duration, so a person could potentially sign an easement to their entire farm.
“If you think about any fuel source for providing electricity, we all want to know that the fuel source is reliable and it is going to be there,” Dickey said. “Our landowners need to know that the payment for those leases are going to be reliable, and that it is something that they can count on for a long time. We can’t build a project without landowners, without wind resources, and without an off-taker, which is typically a wholesaler for utilities that are in the area. We work with utilities to negotiate that power-purchase agreement, so they also want to know [that the resource is going to be there for a long time] and isn’t just going to pull out.”
County Board Supervisor Jeanine Tellin asked McDonald about the open-ended nature of the contracts that are being presented to landowners, as the sight of the turbine isn’t being determined before the contract is signed.
Dickey and McDonald noted that there will be a number of wind and other environmental studies conducted over the next several years to determine the best location for each proposed turbine that also meets all local codes. The landowner will then receive an Exhibit B from the company noting where it plans to place the turbine and where the access road to the turbine will be located.
A landowner won’t have any say where that turbine is located once the option agreement has been signed. Before signing an option agreement, the landowner can negotiate which parcels of land or which portions of a parcel of land are to be included in the agreement.
However, once the agreement is signed the company has the right to place the turbine wherever it chooses based on the agreement.
“We have to do a lot of environmental surveys that narrow down our land, so once we do that we know site-specific where those turbines can be located,” McDonald said. “After that, we have to come through and do soil sampling to see if that ground can actually hold a turbine. There is a lot that goes into play, as we don’t set them on a map and say it looks good. There is a lot of data that goes into it.”
Tellin then asked if they are able to place multiple turbines on a farm.
McDonald said that it is a case-by-case basis and depends on the amount of land that is available from a certain farm. He said that a 160-acre parcel that was made available to them could have more than one or no turbines depending on where the data, environmental studies, and local codes say turbines can be placed.
“It can take two to five years to conduct all those studies and that huge parcel could be whittled down to just one location based on all the data we receive from the studies that are conducted,” Dickey said. “It is a significant front-end investment to make sure that we are in compliance with all codes, Fayette County’s first and foremost, but then there are state and federal codes.”
Dickey noted that NextEra Energy Resources owns several wind farms throughout Iowa including some that are more than 20 years old. She said that the company tends to build and operate a wind farm. She noted she had just completed re-powering a wind farm over in Grundy County, where turbines were upgraded with new technology to extend their useful life, which is where the long-term leases come into play.
Tellin asked what kind of agreement the company makes when it comes to fixing damage to secondary roads caused by the construction of the turbines.
Dickey said that the company will work with the county to determine what roads are suitable for heavy truck traffic when it comes time to construct the turbines. The company will hire a third-party consultant to make an assessment of the roads and determine a road-life consumed number, which notes how many years of life the road lost by having this kind of heavy traffic on these specific roads.
“We will negotiate a road-use agreement with the county engineer,” said Dickey. “Terms of the road use-agreement almost always consist of what kind of pre-construction road survey with which the county feels most comfortable. We typically engage a third-party consultant that would come in and do, at a minimum, high-definition video of every mile of every road that is proposed for use for the delivery flow and construction route within the project. They’ll then take road samples to determine the depth and integrity of the road surfacing, the sub-base and material. All of that data is provided to the county.
“That data can be calculated to determine a road-life consumed number, which is a number calculated to determine as a result of these folks coming in and using our roads, how many years did we lose on a certain street,” she added. “That is calculated to a dollar amount that can be an upfront, one-time payment to the county.
“During construction, it is on our contractor to build up any roads to withstand the heavy loads that are going to come in, as well as turning radius improvements.”
In total, the conversation lasted approximately an hour. Dickey noted that the supervisors are welcome to invite NextEra Energy back anytime for an update on the project.
In other news, the supervisors received an update on the new economic development organization they are funding from new Fayette County Economic Development Director Mallory Hanson. She noted that she has purchased a new domain name for a new Economic Development website, which is www.visitfayettecountyiowa.com.
The new website isn’t up and running, but at least she has secured a new domain name. She also has started a new Facebook page, but is waiting for the former Economic Development page to come down before publishing the new page.
She was to meet with investors of the previous organization Wednesday morning to discuss the makeup of the new organization.
Finally, the supervisors reappointed Richard Witt of Oelwein and Ron Moser of Arlington to the Fayette County Veterans Affairs Commission.