Wind turbine leasee sees benefit to farm, environment

Staff Writer

KENNEDYVILLE, Md. (April 14, 2015) — Bernie Kohl said he always appreciated the idea of renewable energy.
A solar power company once approached him to install a panel array on Angelica Nurseries, his business that spans more than 1,000 acres in northwest Kent County, he said.
He turned it down. It was too much land to take out of production.
Then, two years ago, Apex Clean Energy showed up.
The plan this time? Wind energy.
A turbine “can generate significant energy off half an acre,” Kohl said. “It’s sizeable enough that you’re making a difference. It’s also that it’s not our project, it’s not our windmill. Apex is placing all the investment in this project.”
Suffice it to say, he signed a lease with the company that would allow it to potentially erect one or more turbines on his nursery, part of a proposed 100-megawatt, 5,000-acre project Apex calls Mills Branch Wind. Over the last several weeks, the project has suffered pushback from a growing group of local residents, including farmers, who say the 500-foot height of the project’s wind turbines violates county regulations and will mar the county’s rural character.
The Kent County Farm Bureau voted to oppose the project earlier this month though it said it doesn’t take issues with members who have signed leases. Apex, a Charlottesville, Va., company, said two weeks ago it had leases with 13 landowners covering 3,750 acres of farmland in eastern Kent County.
Because of the size of the project, Apex is able to seek approval from the state’s Public Service Committee, a utility regulatory agency, instead of going through Kent County’s government. The county’s board of commissioners has protested the turbine height, and state Sen. Stephen Hershey Jr., R-Kent, submitted a bill earlier this month that would require the project to go through the county first.
The county Farm Bureau and Washington College supported the bill, which needed to make it through both houses by the end of the legislative session on Monday, April 13, a particularly tight squeeze. The college’s president also sent a letter detailing his concerns to state lawmakers, including Gov. Larry Hogan. Hogan’s office was still reviewing the issue last week and had no comment, Press Secretary Erin Montgomery said. 
But Kohl said he likes the way the turbines work and what they tell him when he sees them rotating on the horizon.
“I’m thinking, ‘Wow, look at that thing. It’s generating energy and not creating any kind of carbon footprint or anything.’ It’s pleasing to me,” he said.
Claims about the turbines’ negative impact on residents’ health and property values aren’t supported by official studies or they’re overstated, Kohl said. He also said he doesn’t believe wind turbines greatly affect the value of farmland — unless the landowner is planning to develop it.
“We are out here in a highly agricultural district,” he said. “If you go on the Internet, you can find arguments in both directions of what it does to land values. In my opinion, it’s pretty much a wash.”
For an operational 2-megawatt turbine that sits on about a half-acre of land, Apex pays the landowner a guaranteed minimum per megawatt per year or an increasing percentage of gross revenues, including energy sales and ancillary income such as carbon credits, according to a copy of a lease obtained by The Delmarva Farmer.
The lease also includes a 30-year schedule of expected and guaranteed payments for puting a turbine on the land. That does not count additional potential payments, including a signing bonus or compensation for other facilities Apex may construct on the property, including access roads, meteorological towers and transmission lines.
Kohl declined to talk about financials of his deal, but he said it works for his operation.
“It’s not going to make or break any of the farms. You’re not doing this, really, to become rich,” he said. “It’s a little supplement that’s for a good cause. At least, that’s what we felt.”
If the Mills Branch Wind project is approved, Apex could begin construction next year, according to its website. If it’s built it could power all up to 30,000 homes, company officials have said.