County reviews contract for wind-energy business

Rex Savage brought a tentative contract for Windborn Energy Inc. to the Marion County Commission Monday that could pay as much as $400,000 on 100 mega?watts generated annually to the county.

He said Windborn would ask to pay such a fee instead of property taxes on the wind-turbine field. Savage said he has been in consultation with county departments, including road and bridge and emergency medical services, plus fire departments to determine costs for services they might provide.

For instance, he said, road and bridge had been asked for costs of graveling and rebuilding roads within the area as well as costs for upgraded maintenance annually.

He and the commissioners agreed that a generating company might prefer the spotlight of writing such a check as compared to property tax.

Savage said any one of the landowners in the Doyle Creek area represented by the company could receive $3,000 annually for each wind turbine on the person?s farm with a total of 80 to 100 turbines in the area. That would happen when a generating company is found to contract with the group, he said.

The commissioners said they would have County Attorney Susan Robson review the contract, and would try to arrive at final figures to plug in before taking action to approve or disapprove the agreement in about two weeks.

Another figure to establish, Savage said, estimated to be in the $2.5 to $4 million range, would be for decommissioning the field.

The technology and upgrading of turbines has progressed so fast, he said, that turbines that were expected to last 20 years when he first started looking at them in 2003, now are expected to last 30 to 40 years.

The decommissioning funds could be held in cash, by line of credit, or by bond, Savage said, but he would most likely expect it to be by bond.

Savage said the trends for turbines are to increase in size and capability for producing more power per unit with less shut-down time, for them to run much more quietly, and for new innovations, such as using lasers, to adjust for wind speeds and currents.

New TIF discussion

The focus of the county commissioners turned this week from the confrontation last week with Hillsboro city officials concerning the tax increment financing plan that enabled new facilities for Midway Motors to a discussion on whether a business or individual should be allowed to benefit from both TIF and county neighborhood revitalization.

The commissioners voted 3-0 to have Robson contact the Kansas Attorney General?s Office for an opinion on the matter, to resolve a potentially duplicative tax benefit that they and other county officials were saying hadn?t been tested in Kansas before.

Their decision came out of a new discussion on the Peabody TIF district with Peabody Mayor Larry Larsen, Councilor David Scott and City Economic Development Director Shane Marler.

Marler said the TIF district at Peabody has a different focus than the design at Hillsboro. The focus is save and upgrade the downtown business district, which would include 42 buildings.

Marler said the Peabody TIF isn?t designed to benefit any single business or developer, but is there to give leverage for strengthening the core of the community.

?We are a poorer community than some of those around us,? he said, ?with no reserves of cash for development.?

Marler noted that the TIF partly came about because of community concern when the Baker Furniture buildings were vacated after 113 years of occupancy. It is expected that some of those buildings will be occupied again soon, he said.

Marler asked the county commissioners to consider that the money being talked about in Peabody is relatively small. For a $200,000 development, Marler said, the county might be sacrificing $3,000 annually in taxes for a boost that would generate more business all over town.

?Also, this is only a 12-year program,? he said.

Commissioner Dan Holub said he had to commend Peabody for its attitude.

?When Baker left you could have wallowed in the disaster, but you chose to make it an opportunity,? Holub said.

Commission Chair Randy Dallke said he still has concerns for tax revenues lost to the schools, noting that school budgets normally run much more tightly.

Scott said he liked Peabody?s TIF because ?it?s a community buy-in? for future prosperity.

Marler agreed with commissioners that nobody should be able to benefit from both TIF and revitalization at the same time.

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