Wind farm picks up speed
In the near future, tall, sleek wind turbines will become a part of the landscape of western Stillwater County. Those turbines are expected to bring in about $18 million of taxes into the county.
Michael Thompson, the project developer, visited Columbus Tuesday to give a presentation to the public about the Stillwater Wind project prior to a public hearing.
The project began in 2001 and was acquired in July by Stillwater Wind LLC, owned by Pattern Energy.
Pattern is based primarily in Houston and San Francisco, and has built, and now operates, about 16 wind projects in the United States, in addition to several internationally. It is also working on the Crazy Mountain Wind project outside Springdale.
Located north of Reed Point, the main junction of the Stillwater project will be located in the area of Phipps and Eder Roads.
According to the presentation, the wind farm will include 31 turbines created by Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy using a significant amount of American-made parts.
These turbines will be connected by below-ground wires to a substation, which will then convert the voltage and connect directly to the existing NorthWestern Energy transmission line that runs through the property.
Pattern has already been moving through the process, completing several necessary pre-construction steps.
In December of 2016, Power Purchase and Interconnection Agreements were completed with NorthWestern Energy. This means that for 25 years, NorthWestern will collect all of the wind farm’s output.
All of the necessary environmental surveys (including wetlands, cultural, and avian) have been completed. Also, lease agreements for the full life of the project have been executed with all of the landowners involved.
The turbines were recently purchased, and Pattern hopes to have the project contractors selected and committed this week.
Pattern has also submitted several important agreements to the county.
For the project to go forward, there are several agreements required that must be approved by the county, as the construction process will cause some local disturbances.
The first is a Noxious Weed Management Plan. With so many vehicles coming back and forth from the construction site, there is concern that foreign weeds may be introduced to the area. Pattern will be responsible for weed control along the roadways and at the construction site.
A Road Use Agreement has also been submitted, following the completion of a turbine transportation study. County roads will be in use, and Pattern will have to make some changes to the road to upgrade it to accommodate the large trucks needed to bring in equipment. At the end of the project, the county will decide which upgrades to keep and where the road should be returned to its original state.
The third document is an Impact Fee Agreement. Pattern is responsible for paying the county an impact fee of a maximum of 1.5 percent of construction costs, which, in the case of the Stillwater project, will amount to approximately $1.25 million.
The impact fee will be paid throughout three years after construction begins, and it goes directly to the local government and the local schools.
Pattern has also applied for tax abatement. Through the tax abatement process, Pattern will pay taxes on a percentage of its full taxable value for the first nine years after construction. By the 10th year, 100 percent of the taxable value will be used to assess taxes.
Even after the tax abatement process, Pattern is projected to bring about $18 million of taxes into the county throughout the project’s 25 years.
The Stillwater project is set to begin very soon. Some road building will occur this month and next month. Main construction is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2018. Delivery of the turbines will take place next June and July, and Pattern’s goal is to begin generating power by the second half of September 2018.
At its peak, Pattern expects to create about 100 temporary jobs. During the operation phase that follows construction, four to seven full-time jobs will be created.
The contractors chosen for the project will come from southern Montana. Besides feeling that it is the “right thing to do,” Thompson described how local contractors will be familiar with the area’s weather and will be available to work on the project if it is needed before main construction begins.
Pattern also described how local businesses will benefit from increased customers during the main construction period, and how the company works to benefit local communities throughout the life of the project.
Through discussion that took place during the presentation, a couple landowners voiced concerns surrounding the roads and how they will be impacted.
Both Thompson and County Road and Bridge Superintendent Mark Schreiner assured the landowners that the roads would be maintained throughout the process, actually improving rather than degrading in the long run.
During the public hearing, three proponents voiced support for the project – two landowners and one local citizen.
Kevin Halverson, a landowner in the Greycliff area, said that because of the benefits to local people, the tax abatement decision should be a “no brainer.”
The public hearing remains open until next week’s agenda meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 9 a.m. This time allows the public to review the documents and submit any comments to the county commissioners.
A decision on the Weed Plan, Road Agreement, and Impact Fee are expected to come at next week’s meeting.