PI County Commissioners updated on potential wind farm project
ALPENA — With no public updates on the Sstar Ridge-Run Energy Wind Farm since 2020, the Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners had a visit from Brad Norden on Thursday at its meeting to present on the future viability of a wind farm project.
Norden is an operations manager and consultant hired by Lotus Infrastructure, partnered with Starwood Energy, which bought the lease from the former developer, Sstar Ridge Run-Energy.
The project is now referred to as Moltke Ridge Wind Farm.
“I’m open to ideas, and I just want to let you guys know, I am here for you guys,” Norden told the board. “I am not an employee for them (Lotus Infrastructure). You know how big developers are, sometimes they try to push something on somebody that is smaller. And I’m that middle person to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Norden said when he was reviewing paperwork from the previous company, some of the things that had been promised to landowners were not there. He said there were back leases that hadn’t been paid which is why Lotus hired him to go out to Presque Isle to examine the situation.
Norden said he has met with landowners that had former leases in the project to continue to develop new leases and keep everyone informed.
The Moltke Ridge Wind Farm picked up the payments in 2021 and has been back paying landowners since then – completing a recent payment last week. Norden said the company has been making quarterly payments totaling $300,000 a year.
“We know that money doesn’t just stay in someone’s sofa, they spend it back,” he said.
Norden has experience with wind farms, helping to develop two in Ohio. One of them being Northwest Ohio Wind Farm with $900,000 of yearly tax funds. The other, Grove Hill Wind Farm with $1.3 million of tax money for 140 megawatts.
“There is a tax benefit for it,” Norden said. “And I know not everybody is not for these wind farms … My job here is trying to describe the best benefits for it, keep everybody informed. I mean, if there is something bad about them, if these things were causing health problems I wouldn’t be here right now.”
When asked what the completion date is for the project, Norden said it might start at the end of 2025, but said “in reality it’s a 2026 project right now.”
There are several factors that still need to go into the project such as getting permits and transformers for the turbines, which require a 102-week period to set up. Additionally, Lotus does not yet have a buyer for the power or commitments to companies for distribution.
Some of the worries Norden has include road agreements, permits and distribution.
Participation agreements are offered by Lotus to landowners. Norden said the lease by acre is a $10 rate. Therefore, when someone with one acre participates, they would receive the same payment as someone with 100 acres. However, they most likely would not have anything on their property, but it will pay their taxes and insurance.
Norden concluded the contract would be a 30 year and two 10-year extensions.
“This project will probably cost anywhere, depending on the megawatts, probably 250 million dollars to build,” he said. “When you got that much money out there you need that long term commitment to get that money back.”
One of the commissioners asked if the project does move forward and the wind turbines are up, is there any mention in the contract about how landowners could go about taking them down. Norden said, “yes, there is a bond.”
He said the decommissioning bond will be enough for every turbine to come down if another company didn’t try to buy it and set it back up.
Lotus Infrastructure usually gets its turbines from General Electric which are manufactured in South Carolina. The company would bring in 53 turbines with 4.5 megawatts to Presque Isle County.
“Two years from now it (megawattage) may be something different because they become more efficient every year,” he said.
It can be expected that the turbines would be as tall as 550-665 feet. Norden said this would include around 850 yards of concrete for the wind turbines to be built on a four-foot slab to allow easy removal when they are decommissioned.
In accordance with forestry guidelines, there would also be a 250 feet distance required between the wind turbines and any forest lot of five acres, Norden said. There were previous worries about lines cutting through the forests, but he said that would not be a concern.
Besides the construction of the wind turbines, there are also possibilities of access roads being built under the production tax credit.
“In the production tax credit, you have to show 2% advancements in the project every year, which could be buying a transformer, or buying turbines instead of the roads,” he said. “The roads are the cheaper options which you may or may not see here.”
There is already a basic layout of what Lotus Infrastructure is planning for the project, but there has yet to be any finalized plans on the access roads or collection lines.
Norden said all of these aspects for the project were based on the ordinance the board of commissioners issued in 2018 about the wind farms setbacks.
The lease is completely the same as the previous company. The only difference, Norden said, is a document stating that Sstar Ridge is now Moltke Ridge, which was finalized in August 2021.
So far, Norden said there have been meteorological evaluation towers built in Moltke Township to monitor the wind for the past year. It was concluded that Moltke has “great wind data.”
“We think there is a viable project here,” Norden said.
During the second week of August, Norden said he would meet with Moltke Ridge Township trustees to let them know what is going on with the project.
This story was produced as part of the Michigan News Group Internship. Zipporah Abarca is working for WCMU this summer at The Alpena News.