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Costs of decommissioning wind turbines at issue

County urged to consider bonds to insulate from liability

Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 13, 2014 11:23 a.m. CDT

PRINCETON – Wind farm opponent Ed Gerdes is concerned. If the Big Sky project north of Ohio is decommissioned, how much will it cost to take down the turbines, and where will the money come from? The county? The landowner?

It’s a topic he and others have been researching for a while. Tuesday, he brought it up at the county board meeting, as he did the month before. They now have even more questions.

“The people who should be here talking about the decommissioning are landowners, but as you know, they have a confidentiality clause in their lease which doesn’t allow them to speak publicly,” Gerdes said.

Last month, Gerdes shared a study on decommissioning costs that a Virginia-based company did at the request of his group. According to the study, it would cost about $19.4 million to take down the 87 turbines, about $224,000 each. At that rate, the cost to decommission Big Sky could be in the $10 million to $12 million range.

Gerdes said Tuesday that his group has been talking with people who are recommending the county ask for a performance bond that would cover the entire cost of decommissioning.

“The money you have now at best would cover probably 15 to 20 percent,” he told the board. “And these companies are [limited liability companies], so if they do fold up, there are no assets to cover the rest of the decommissioning.”

Gerdes said his group also learned there are landlords with cellphone towers who aren’t getting paid the rent they are owed, but still must pay the property taxes.

“So we’re assuming the [wind farm] landowners are going to be responsible for the property taxes, and the question is, from the time the turbines are shut down until they are taken down, are landowners going to be responsible if that could be a 2-year period?

“We assumed they will be responsible for the taxes,” he said. “Plus probably 85 percent of the cost to take them down.”

Gerdes said the turbines must come down.

“They are a hazard, and on top of that, who is liable for injures suffered from the time they are shut down to the time they are taken down? The landowners, I’m assuming, would again have to have some sort of liability insurance to take care of that,” he said.

Gerdes reminded board members that Midwest Energy promised it would take down the project when it was over, then it was bought by Edison Mission, and now it’s owned by Pittsburgh-based EverPower Wind Co.

“I really doubt if they will be here,” he said. “Are they going to come up with $10 million to $12 million to take them down, or are they going to walk away and leave you with $1.8 million to take them down yourself? I don’t think the taxpayers of Bureau County should take them down, and I don’t think the landowners planned on having to take them down.”

Responding to questions from the board, Bureau County State’s Attorney Patrick Herrmann said performance bonds essentially are an insurance policy that is paid for by the company and would not be voided, should the company go into bankruptcy.

Members voted to have Herrmann research the bonds and report back at next month’s meeting.

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