WATSEKA — The Iroquois County Board will begin requiring the developers of wind farms to pay $50,000 in financial securities for every wind turbine they build — five times what previously was required — to protect the county in the event a wind farm operator goes bankrupt and abandons its project.
A revised decommissioning plan for wind farms was approved by the board 20-2 last month, requiring a $50,000 cash escrow account be provided for each tower. The $50,000 cash escrow replaces a $10,000-per-turbine surety bond as financial security.
Requiring the cash escrow for turbines was added to the proposed decommissioning plan at a board meeting at the request of board member Troy Krumwiede of rural Watseka. The new fee was not included in the proposed ordinance when it was approved 5-1 by the zoning board of appeals in November, but it did go through a public hearing this fall, separately from the revised ordinance.
The county board in September had approved adding the fee, but State's Attorney Jim Devine deleted the reference to a specific number in his draft of the new ordinance because it would be "subject to change based on an engineer's estimate." Before the $50,000 cash escrow being added, the company was to provide financial assurance to the county in an amount "at least equal to the (engineer's) demolition and removal cost estimates."
Devine said the decommissioning plan that was approved will still allow the county to select an engineer to provide decommissioning cost estimates to make sure they are in line with the financial securities in place. The engineer would provide new cost estimates every three years for the lifespan of the project.
The county may also sell any salvageable material at an abandoned wind farm to offset costs of decommissioning.
"I'm happy with it," Devine said. "I think it's a workable ordinance. It should now provide adequate financial protection for the county in the future."
Board Chairman Ron Schroeder of rural St. Anne said he thinks the financial securities required now are "a little high," adding that he hopes the requirements do not drive away wind farm developers.
"But if that stops progress in the county, then maybe they weren't serious about it to begin with," Schroeder added. "We do have to protect ourselves."
Board member Rod Copas of rural Onarga said the financial securities help alleviate his concerns that salvage value would not cover the cost of removing turbines.
"Some board members kept saying that salvage value was adequate to cover the cost of decommissioning, but my argument is that there's about 14,000 (turbines) already abandoned in the U.S. today," Copas said. "If salvage value is so good, why are that many standing? That's why we needed to ensure some cash up front."
Board member John Shure of rural Buckley said he feels the new ordinance is a "workable thing that puts us in the right direction." Shure also noted that it can be changed again if needed.
Voting against the decommissioning plan were Jean Hiles of rural Watseka and Jim Hurt of rural Wellington.
With approval of the plan, a moratorium on further wind-farm development was lifted.