CARTHAGE, Mo. — For Bill and Jan Bowman, both 69 years old, construction of the North Fork Ridge Wind Farm north of Joplin means they will be able to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren.
The Bowmans, who will have three wind turbines built on their Barton County farm, attended a public meeting Monday at Carthage’s Memorial Hall that was hosted by Tenaska, the Omaha-based energy company that has a contract to develop and manage construction of two wind farms in parts of Jasper, Barton, Lawrence and Dade counties. A third wind farm will be built in Southeast Kansas.
About 100 people attended the Carthage meeting. A second meeting was held Tuesday in Lamar.
In total, Liberty Utilities-Empire District will own and operate about 280 turbines, capable of generating 600 megawatts of electricity. The project represents a $1 billion investment.
Liberty will pay the Bowmans and about 200 other landowners in the region an annual lease that the couple said will substantially add to each family’s income.
“The money helped, but really, we’re (almost) 70 years old,” Bill Bowman said. “It’s not going to be for us. It’s going to be for our kids and grandkids.”
Scott Seier, vice president of Tenaska and the general project manager, said 138 turbines will be built in Southwest Missouri. The North Fork Ridge Wind Farm will straddle Missouri Highway 43 between Missouri Highway 126 and U.S. Highway 160; the Kings Point Wind Farm will be built south, east and west of Golden City.
Seier said construction could begin next month and be completed in a year to a year and a half, but don’t expect to see turbines going up immediately. Most of the work this fall will include improving existing roads to allow them to carry the weight of the heavy equipment, construction of access roads to each turbine, construction of the turbine foundations, installing underground electrical connection lines, and foundation work for substations and operations buildings.
Delivery and construction of the towers and windmills is expected to start in February 2020 with all turbines in place and working by the end of 2020.
Tenaska also said recently it has met all state and county regulations needed to begin construction.
County agreements require wind turbines to be at least 650 feet from the nearest residence, but none will be that close, the company said. Nearly 90 percent of the turbines will be located more than a quarter-mile from the nearest residence.
Tenaska also said in a statement that 200 jobs will be created during peak construction, along with 14 to 20 permanent jobs to operate the two wind farms.
Family to benefit
The Bowmans said they were initially skeptical when invited to a meeting by Liberty-Empire officials in Jasper in 2017. They had been asked to participate in a wind farm project proposed by a company from out of state in 2011, but nothing came of that, and the company quietly left the area and returned paperwork to them.
The couple live on land they inherited from Jan Bowman’s father; her three brothers live on neighboring farms, and two of them also will have turbines on their land.
With a hub height of between 394 and 400 feet and a tip height of nearly 600 feet, the turbines will be noticeably larger than the turbines at the Elk River Wind Farm near Beaumont, Kansas, east of Wichita, that also provides power to Liberty, according to Shaen Rooney, project manager with Liberty-Empire.
One casualty of this project will be the coal-fired electric generating plant north of Asbury in northwest Jasper County.
Rooney said the utility has filed paperwork with the Missouri Public Service Commission stating its intention to shut down the 200-megawatt Asbury generating plant no later than June 1, 2020 — one month before the 50th anniversary of the plant’s first day of operation on July 1, 1970.
“Asbury has become less and less important a part of our (energy) mix,” Rooney said. “Its economics are not favorable when you compare it to natural gas, which is incredibly cheap now, as well as all this inexpensive renewable energy that’s going up now.”
Leaving a legacy
The Bowmans said they think this project will bring good things to their community.
In addition to money for their family, Bill Bowman said the school districts in the area will benefit from increased property tax revenue.
“All in all, I think it’s good for the county,” he said. “It’s very, very good for the school districts, Liberal especially, and Golden City.”
Not everyone shares their views. Some who attended the meeting found flyers on their car windshields left by a group calling itself Concerned Citizens of Barton/Jasper County, titled “Why wind turbines don’t make good neighbors.” The flyers listed 31 problems allegedly caused by wind turbines and directing people to a Facebook page with a similar name. Attempts to reach a member of the group for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
“We understand that people may have questions and concerns, and we are happy to address that in any way we can,” Jillian Curtis, media coordinator for Liberty-Empire, said Tuesday.
For Jan Bowman, the wind farm is an opportunity to help her children and grandchildren by providing additional income in the future that might help them keep their farm in the family.
“You figure a lot of farmers are having to sell their property because they can’t afford to pay the inheritance tax and other bills,” she said. “This way, they will have a little chunk of money coming in to be able to go ahead and work the farm. It’s holding on to our heritage, and I really think my dad and mom would be happy about that.”
The utility’s original proposal called for a $1.5 billion project that would generate 800 megawatts of wind energy and result in closing its coal-fired plant in Asbury more than 15 years early. Throughout the course of negotiations with regulators, the utility agreed to delay the closure of the coal-fired plant and to scale back the targeted production to 600 megawatts.