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By Jennifer Kellner
During the series of public hearings for new solar and wind turbine ordinances, Ringgold County supervisors learned that Steelhead Americas, a Vestas company, is presently looking into potential wind turbine projects in southern Iowa.
Molly Dunton, a project developer with Steelhead, and Sheridan Martin, also with Steelhead, attended the the third public hearing to learn more about the new solar and wind turbine ordinances.
Dunton noted they looked at the Ringgold County website and several surrounding counties, and did not find any ordinances related to wind turbines prior to arriving in the area.
“You guys are very efficient and move very quickly,” Dunton stated.
Developers such as Steelhead will now need to adhere to Ringgold County’s wind energy ordinance adopted on July 24, 2023.
Dunton shared “there have been high level announcements from MISO and MidAmerican Energy” regarding a large transmission line project in the area.
Although Steelhead has nothing to do with transmission line projects, Dunton stated “we chase those projects to capitalize on the capacity” the transmission lines provide for wind turbines.”
Dunton also stated they have talked with several land owners in Ringgold County who are interested in leasing land.
While no contracts had been signed as of the July 24 public hearing, Steehlead has extended land lease contracts that have been to land owners.
Ringgold County supervisor Steve Knapp questioned the Steelhead representatives, “how do you lease it without knowing what the set back regulations are?”
Dunton stated “we start with land leases,” explaining they lease the entire property, and then the details are shared with land owners later, once they have a better idea of how much land they have to work with across the county.
“Land owners make or break projects,” stated Dunton.
Supervisor Knapp asked, “why didn’t you reach out to us?”
Dunton stated that she “reached out to Jodie Geist, the Ringgold County Development Director, in December, but we never really connected.”
The Record-News reached out to Jodie Geist, and she stated “Molly sent me an email in December, but we have never had a conversation.”
Sheridan Martin noted Steelhead was a sponsor of the Ringgold County Fair, where they made their first public appearance. According to Martin, they have just started reaching out to land owners.
This step determines whether potential development happens because “without land owners, we don’t have a project,” stated Martin.
Ringgold County land owner Kendra Martin asked the Vestas representatives, “would you go to big cities like Des Moines in the same manner? You’d go in behind their backs?”
Dunton stated “It’s a private land owner decision. We might not be able to build on it, but we always start by leasing land.”
Typically, Steelhead needs at least 40-acres, and although a wind turbine only takes an acre or two, they lease the entire property.
Sheridan explained they map out the county and “show land owners maps of where we can’t put wind turbines,” noting those places are called “exclusion areas.”
John Foley, who lives in Washington Township, stated he was contacted four years ago and was told there is about a mile ridge on his property that would be ideal for wind turbine placement. However, the set back distance in the wind turbine ordinance potentially limits development.
Foley asked the Steelhead representatives, “what is your normal set back?”
Dunton stated that they typically recommend “at least 1.5 times the height of the wind turbine,” although they typically use “a baseline distance of 1,500 feet.”
In Franklin County, Steelhead Americas is currently constructing 40-50 wind turbines known as the “Wild Rose Wind Project.” The turbines are expected to be operational by 2025.
There, county ordinance 2023B includes a property line set back described as 120% of the total wind turbine height, and a set back of 1,900 feet from dwellings and buildings.
Another Steelhead America’s project in Palo Alto County, called “Lost Island Wind,” is also in the development phase. Construction for 40-50 wind turbines is targeted to begin in 2024.
The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors recently amended their wind energy ordinance in June of 2022, increasing the set back distance from 1,500 feet to one half mile from Lost Island Lake, homes and cemeteries.
Supervisor Colby Holmes asked the Steelhead representatives, “How long does something like that take?”
Dunton shared that it typically takes five to seven years to develop a wind energy project, from the time land agreements are negotiated, up to the construction period.
After a one to two-year construction period, turbines are then expected to operate over a 30-year span.
Once wind turbine projects are developed, Steelhead then turns them over to another owner like Alliant Energy or MidAmerican Energy. After selling the project to a buyer, they then negotiate maintenance contracts and service turbines through Vestas.
To download a PDF copy of the map, click this link: Steelhead Ringgold Co Wind Map