Company freezes proposed Plymouth County wind farm projects

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Poor market conditions have stalled a possible wind energy project in Plymouth County.

Horizon Wind Energy, the company that installed several test towers for two potential wind farms in Plymouth County has "put the project on hold," according to Roby Roberts, a spokesman for EDP Renewables, which owns Horizon.

"Demand for energy is way down, due to the recession," Roberts said.

In addition, there is a lot of very inexpensive natural gas available, he said.

"That has really put wind development on the back burner almost for everyone," Roberts said.

In the fall of 2010, Horizon received permits to erect two meteorological (met) towers in the northwestern part of Plymouth County and one halfway between Remsen and Kingsley to study the viability of wind farms there.

Those towers were installed and have been measuring wind data since, Roberts said.

"We're going to keep measuring for as long as we need to," he said. "Normally at two years you have enough data, so I think we're close to that."

Roberts said he thought the wind at these test sites was "pretty good," but the company is not taking any forward steps with the projects.

"We're still interested," he said. "But at this point we have no plans for what we're going to do."

Even if the wind is good in Plymouth County, that's only part of the equation, Roberts said.

The potential Plymouth County wind farm projects also faced transmission challenges, he explained. If a wind farm is built to produce electricity, there needs to be enough electricity transmission available to bring it to Horizon's customers.

Right now, that is not the case, Roberts said.

"I think there is some congestion and I think there is some need for expansion," he said.

On the other hand, Roberts said, the price tag to put up wind farms has come down, thanks to new technology and the number of manufacturers in the United States.

"We're still optimistic about the market," he said. "It's very cyclical in nature."

Wind projects often take years to develop.

In 2010, a Horizon spokesman said the earliest construction would happen on any wind project in Plymouth County would be in 2014-2016.

Roberts said the company currently doesn't have plans to take down the met towers.

According to the permits received from the Plymouth County Board of Adjustment, one of the towers is in Union Township, in the southeast and southwest quarter of section 10 -- placing it about 7 miles south of Remsen and 2 miles west.

The other two towers are in Preston Township, which borders Sioux County toward the west of Plymouth County.

One is in part of the southeast quarter of section 11 -- about 2 miles west of Craig. The other is in part of the southwest quarter of section 18 -- about 6 miles west and 1 mile south of Craig.

For now, the met towers will keep measuring data and EDP Renewables will keep an eye on economic conditions.

"Once the market improves, we will re-evaluate," Roberts said.

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