New zoning officer reviewing wind and solar decommissioning
agreements

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[June 21, 2022] 

At the June Logan County Boardís Planning and Zoning Committee meeting, one focus of discussion was decommissioning plans.

The decommissioning plan for the Top Hat Wind Farm Project has been reviewed by both Westwood Engineering and Serena Paige of TWC. Westwood is the engineer for Top Hat and Paige is the engineer the county consults with for wind and solar projects.

After Westwood and Paige engineers reviewed the documents, Planning and Zoning Committee Chairman David Hepler said they
came to a consensus. Paige sent her recommendations to the committee.

Since the plan has been reviewed by both parties, Hepler asked for a motion to bring it forward to the full board.

Committee member Dale Nelson asked if Logan County Stateís Attorney Brad Hauge has seen the plan yet.

If the committee recommends approval, Hepler said the plans would be sent to Hauge. It would also be sent to Logan County
Highway Engineer Bret Aukamp.


One question committee member David Blankenship had was whether the plan references the agricultural impact mitigation
agreement (AIMA). He felt that would supersede anything the county wants to do.

AIMA is something Hepler thought Paige would be familiar with.

Though Logan County Zoning Officer George Mencken had a copy of the stateís Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement, he had not looked over the decommissioning plan completely.

There were some questions Mencken has about the plan. He would like to see Top Hatís agreement and see what the state has signed. Mencken does not want to find out the state plan has something different.
 


Once the state has signed the mitigation agreement, the state sends a copy of it to all the farmers the wind farm is leasing with.
The county does not receive one, so Mencken asked the state to send one to him.

For bonding, Mencken said the state asks for five percent of the project costs for the first five years. The amount for the bond goes up to fifty percent for the next five years. After eleven years, the bond amount is supposed to be one hundred percent.

What Mencken said the county can choose is whether the bond is all cash or whether the value of scrap is included.

Right now, Mencken said the bond is written as just scrap value. He feels that takes the decision away from the county.

The concern for Nelson was the bond being cash value versus scrap value.

The 20-year chart on scrap metal value is all over the place and Mencken said they are only required to offer value at current prices. He said that can change daily.

Years down the road, Mencken said it is hard to say what will happen to steel prices. These prices could possibly be higher when the project is decommissioned.

As Mencken has looked at what other counties are doing, he said many are going with scrap value of the materials. Many counties do not want to put up large cash bonds.

In talking to people at the state level, Mencken has found out no wind farms have been abandoned. He feels the county may need
to change past agreements because the 10, 50 and 100 percent bond amounts are not in them.

For Nelson, a major concern is how much it could cost the county years down the road if doing scrap versus cash value. He would like the board to have the option to decide on that after looking at the risks and benefits.

The county has gone with scrap value in the past. However, Mencken said there is no way of knowing the scrap value.

On some of these areas regarding the value, Hepler said a licensed professional engineer is the one who should be commenting on it. Unfortunately, Paige was unable to be at the
meeting.
 


Since there are questions and concerns, Hepler asked concerns be forwarded to the board office and to Paige. That way, Paige can address the concerns.

One thing Mencken likes about Top Hatís decommissioning plan is that they have agreed to reevaluate it every five years. After
eleven years, the bond would go to one hundred percent.

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By year sixteen, whether scrap value is up or down, Mencken said the county would stay at one hundred percent. It is important to decide what that number is. The board can renegotiate what one hundred percent is.

The Top Hat Decommissioning Plan will be brought forward to the full board later this month.

A representative for Top Hat said they are still on track with plans to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals in August for conditional use approval.

Other decommissioning plans

The committee also discussed the decommissioning plans for Hilltopper, Railsplitter and other wind farm projects.

The state now sets minimum standards for bonds. Mencken said prior agreements had set bonds at 10 percent.

Language in the zoning ordinance requires reevaluation of the decommissioning plans and bond every five years.

In some of the earlier decommissioning plans, Mencken said there was no language about the reviews. He recommends the full board reopens these plans to add in mandatory language.

If the language is not added and wind farm developers would walk away, Mencken said the county would be stuck paying ten
percent.

To correct the problem, Mencken said these plans need to be updated with the 10, 50 and 100 percent for the bonds over the years.

With Railsplitter Wind Farm, the bond was set at 10 percent due to the rules then. Mencken said there was an agreement it would be increased gradually. However, in the zoning office, there are no records showing those increases.

Since Railsplitterís plan was done under the old law, Mencken said we cannot get them to go back.

If Railsplitter were to retrofit their turbines with newer generator components, Mencken said there would be a new agreement. It would be under the new rules.

The state now says bonds must be set at fifty percent. Mencken said we need to find out if Railsplitter has raised the bond.

The Railsplitter Wind Farm is in both Logan and Tazwell Counties. Board member Scott Schaffenacker asked Mencken if he had been able to coordinate with them.

Though Mencken has contacted the assistant zoning officer in Tazwell County, he has not heard back. He said they were not sure if their bond had been raised either.

To meet up with the standards, Mencken said he needs to see about getting new language in some of the older agreements.

The committee authorized Mencken to reach out to the developers to find out about these issues.

Road Use Agreements for solar farms

Last year, there was some discussion over whether road use agreements are needed for solar farms.

Mulligan Solar Farm covers almost 900 acres and there was a road use agreement put in place for it.

Currently, Trajectory Energy is planning a much smaller solar farm project near Mount Pulaski.

Because there will only be 60 acres in the Trajectory Energy project, Hepler said it would essentially be a micro solar farm. If a solar farm is under a certain threshold like 100 acres, Hepler does not think a road use agreement would be necessary.

Since lightweight trucks are used for setting up solar farms, Blankenship said he does not feel a road use agreement is necessary. The trucks are much different than what is used to transport materials for wind farms.

If the loads are below the road limit, Mencken said it would not be any different than others driving through that area.

To Hepler, a road use agreement for a small parcel seems burdensome.

For Nelson, the question was what acreage to draw the line at.

Mencken said it would be good to go by weight. If the weight limit is 48,000 pounds and these trucks are coming in at 40,000
pounds, he does not feel an agreement is needed.

With a 900-acre solar farm, more trucks would be bringing in equipment than for the smaller solar farms.

An ordinance change may be needed so solar farms less than 100 acres are not required to have a road use agreement.

This issue will stay on the agenda for July. An ordinance change may go before the Zoning Board of Appeals in August.

[Angela Reiners]

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