A good deal or no deal

Salt Creek Wind project coming to Tama County

A Tama County wind farm project 10 years in the making is one step closer to becoming a reality.

Encompassing 75 acres in the central and northern parts of the county, the Salt Creek Wind project looks to feature between 40-60 turbines that will produce 170 megawatts per hour.

By comparison, the Vienna Wind project completed in 2011 near Gladbrook holds 45 turbines on 16 acres of land and has a per hour output of 103.5 megawatts.

The project has yet to break ground but all things are pointing in that direction with an estimation of 2022 to be online.

First talks

Talks for a wind farm first began in 2010. A meeting was held by a development group in which several hundred community members attended.

Wind farming was relatively new to most of Tama County at that time.

Out of the talks a committee of six land owners referred to as the “Big Six” formed organically in response to the meeting.

Kurt Boerm, Nick Podhajsky, Ron Groth, Keith Sash, Mark Earley and Gary Hanus make up the Big Six. Together they formed the Tama County Land Owners Association, LLC and hired Scott Buchanan, a knowledgeable attorney out of Algona.

Before moving forward it was important for the landowners to know how this could change the land they steward. The group had conversations early on with people from Iowa State University about the effects of wind farms on land and in agriculture.

After several meetings between multiple development groups, they settled on a contract to proceed forward.

However, the original deal ultimately fell through, leading to a second attempt made in 2014.

“We didn’t need a wind farm but we were interested and it was going to be a good deal or no deal,” Boerm said.

The second effort also fell short and the land owner group decided to disband and move forward with life as usual.

“We put it out of our minds because we thought it wouldn’t come to fruition,” Boerm said.

Third times a charm

Four years later in 2018, a key player from the initial development effort reached back out to the six land owners about the potential for reigniting talks of a second wind project in Tama County.

Changes in the landscape made the project more attractive this time around.

One being the upgrade in transmission for the main power line that runs from Marshalltown to Toledo was upgraded.

Also, the 647 megawatt Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo, Iowa’s only nuclear power plant, has been decommissioned this year. The plant was a large source of power for the electrical grid and in its absence lay an opportunity for renewable energy like wind and solar to fill the need.

Enter Salt Creek Wind. The Salt Creek Wind project has been unique because of the collective effort of the land owners to recruit and secure a developer for a large project such as this. Oftentimes with the creation of wind farms it’s an individual approaching a wind energy company.

Boerm said the land owner group has a love of the land and a love for their community. This is what drove them to negotiate a deal not just for themselves but for 200 plus people who fall in the 25,000 acre footprint of the project that contains and surrounds the eventual locations of the turbines.

He commends the rest of the group for the countless hours spent on the project over the past decade.

The land owners agreed the deal had to benefit the most people.

“To me it’s all about relationships,” Boerm said.

That is why the deal includes profits even for those who will not have turbines on their land.

Boerm said they did not get everything they wanted but that he could sleep at night knowing they did the best they could.

The deal includes a 50-60 year contract.

Boerm is a farm kid. His farm has been in his family for generations and will remain through at least a sixth generation with the birth of his grandson.

“I am 54 so this project will affect my family more than me,” Boerm said.

For him, wind is just something else he can farm.

“As farmers, we feed the world. Every time someone turns a light on, why not be the ones to provide that too,” Boerm said.

Nothing is set in stone yet but this is the farthest they have gotten in the process.

“I’ll be really surprised if this doesn’t go,” Boerm said.

Boerm said while land owners may not become Jed Clampett and get rich off wind energy, it will provide another revenue source for farmers and be a significant financial boost for the county as well.

Impact on community

The project projects to be an investment of $270 million. In the first 25 years tax revenues will be north of $40 million.

Approval has been granted from the Board of Adjustments and most recently the Board of Supervisors to break ground on 10 sites in Tama County in order to receive crucial federal funding. That work will begin in November. The project will need to again be brought before the Board of Supervisors when they are ready to begin constructions of the turbines. That will likely be in the spring of 2021.

“We have an abundant wind resource in Tama County,” Tama County Economic Development Director, Katherine Ollendieck said. “We already have a small wind farm outside Gladbrook and a single turbine outside Traer for Traer Municipal Utilities. I believe Salt Creek Wind has worked through our local process to answer questions, gain trust and develop support. I believe Salt Creek Wind will be a good neighbor and I’m certain the economic benefits of their project will make a lasting impact on Tama County. We have a strong leadership team representing our local landowners and they have done their homework.”