N-CORPE hears wind and solar proposal

CURTIS, Neb. (KNOP) - At their regular board meeting in Curtis Monday, N-CORPE hosted Invenergy representatives to hear the company's proposal for placing renewable energy services on their Lincoln County property.

Invenergy representatives spoke Monday about their ideas for developing wind and solar projects on N-CORPE land in Lincoln County. (SOURCE: Melanie Standiford KNOP).

It's a proposal which N-CORPE manager Kyle Shepherd says will produce N-CORPE revenue to "lessen the need to rely on occupation taxes paid by irrigation across 14 different counties."

"This would give us another source so we wouldn't have to rely so heavily on that occupation tax," Shepherd said Monday before the meeting.

"It's just basically an information presentation for our Board of Directors," he said. "We always have a public meeting for all our meetings for the public to attend and comment."

"Invenergy" is the name of the company proposing ideas to N-CORPE. Senior Manager Julia Kimmerly and Analyst Jack Colelli of the Denver office said Invenergy has 146 projects, over 1000 employees, produces 22,000 megawatts of power, and has offices in Denver and Chicago. The two said Invenergy is the "largest independent power producer in the United States."

They explained that they monitor all projects in "real time" from the ground (on site), and from the control center in Chicago which "can see, and control" all locations.

Both Invenergy representatives, and N-CORPE managers explained that the presentation Monday was a very early step in the possibility of placing wind and solar projects on N-CORPE land in Lincoln County. The "study phase" and "permitting phase" alone can take 5-7 years. This can be called the "development phase," which basically "assesses the feasibility of a project site."

Colelli explained that many steps and a "number of years to develop a project," were necessary - from "signing leases (with public and private landowners), environmental studies, cultural studies, wetland, and consultations with local bodies" to name a few.

Colelli said Invenergy wants to be a "local partner" in the areas where they invest, "hiring full time staff for on-site, with wages and benefits; contributing by paying state and local taxes; and through nameplate capacity taxes.

For more information on "Nameplate Capacity Tax" you can go to revenue.nebraska.gov, but basically it is explained as: "The owner of a wind energy generation facility must pay a nameplate capacity tax equal to the total nameplate capacity of the commissioned wind energy generation facility multiplied by a tax rate of $3,518 per megawatt."

Colleli said, "The taxes are standardized, and all revenue coming in is getting distributed back to the counties." He spoke of "good neighbor policies," giving to emergency services and educational funds.

He added that both solar and wind programs are very well suited for Western Nebraska, saying "the Mid-West is a very strong wind resource," adding that solar energy is strong in Nebraska, too, due to a slightly cooler climate. Colleli said they are proposing the N-CORPE site and "maybe even beyond that," to place wind farms and solar resources. He said, "the wind will allow for normal usage, the irrigation project can continue, as well as cattle operations under the wind turbines."

Scott Dicke, LRNRD, commented on the Solar and Wind Conference in Lincoln which took place the last week of October. He said he heard very positive things from Holt County concerning projects happening there. Also, he told a story from the conference, saying a farmer there was worried people thought he had "weird cows, because during the day, as the sun would move and create shadows from the turbines, the cows would move with the shade."

Some of the concerns and questions raised and asked during the open question/answer period of Monday's N-CORPE meeting were: fire concerns, roads, lifespan of project and disposal of old turbines, erosion, and loss of native grasses and wildlife, and use of tax credits.

Concerning fires, Colelli and Kimmerly explained that safety measures were set up at all sites, including 24-7 monitoring of sites, both on-site and from the control center in Chicago.

With extra traffic and tall grasses there is a concern that local fire departments would take a while to respond to the N-CORPE location in Lincoln County. N-CORPE manager Shepherd said there is a hydrant and resources available at the site already, and Wallace Fire is available for cooperation, as well as other area fire units, such as North Platte. Colleli insisted that all employees, in both the construction phase and operating stage are "highly trained" in emergency response, as well.

As for roads, "all new roads to sites," according to Colleli. He said the roads are well-maintained and improved for access to properties. Adding that "roads are the first things we do."

He said the lifespan of the project now is 20-25 years or more, and turbines are evolving constantly in size, shape and capability. Concerning concerns about decommissioned turbines, there were comments about recycling, reusing materials, and even some of the parts being "sent to China." All of that, he said, is changing all the time.

Per studies, both Colleli and Kiimmerly explained that N-CORPE has already introduced more "native grasses," and that while the solar panels take up 4-6 acres of land, the panels turn with the movement of the sun, so "one-third of the ground is covered, not all of it." And with studies they determine which grasses will grow best to preserve the soil from erosion. And sometimes, rock bedding is used where grass will not grow to decrease erosion.

As for tax credits, Colleli explained that they are a standalone company, as the tax credits have been phased out as of now. He said the company does not need the credits due to the sustainability of the projects.

Here's a bit of history on N-CORPE: The N-CORPE project was developed by four NRD's (Natural Resource Districts) in the Republican Basin and Platte Basin. A large amount of irrigated acres of land were retired, and previous water that was used for irrigation is now set aside to augment stream flow to the Republican River and Platte Rivers. When those rivers need more flow, the N-CORPE can draw from the retired area. Pumping into the Platte is expected to start in 2020.

The proposed idea of placing wind and solar projects above ground could make the land earn more for N-CORPE to rely less on occupation tax, according to Shepherd. This project, it the development stage is very young, and could take 5-7 years before it could even be up and running. Part of the process will include open houses with the public to get input.