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Wind could blow into court

By KALEY LYON

klyon@dailynews.net

Monday's Ellis County Commission vote to grant a conditional-use permit application for a wind project southwest of Hays was a step forward for Iberdrola's 200-megawatt project.

Individuals on both sides of the issue, however, expect that final resolution of this debate could be issued in district court.

"I sincerely appreciate the vote of support this morning," said Krista Gordon, Hays Wind project manager. "From here, if an appeal is filed, we'll have to respond accordingly.

"I'm hopeful that we'll be able to continue without too many road blocks."

Not everyone, however, is pleased with the commissioners' decision.

Tim Davis, co-chairman of the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, a group opposed to the wind farm, said plans to file an appeal in district court have been under way.

"There's a lot of inconsistencies and errors in the application and in the process," Davis said. "Everybody expected to lose this round, with them pulling back the boundaries and etc., but this has been kind of the plan of action for a long time."

The first time around, a successful protest period stayed the process. Only one vote of opposition from county commissioner Perry Henman was enough to deny the permit.

The new application, however, pulled back the project boundaries so the 1,000-foot radius of eligible protest area was reduced, and no valid protest was submitted.

Thus, the conditional-use permit was granted Monday morning by a majority vote of the Ellis County commission.

Opponents now have a 30-day period to file a lawsuit and are planning to do so, Davis said.

Gordon said the project, which will consist of 100 turbines, each standing nearly 400 feet tall, will continue to progress.

Before construction can commence, however, the company has other housekeeping details to attend to, such as selling the potential 200-megawatts of energy production to an off-take company.

Provided there are no lawsuits filed, and things progress smoothly, Gordon said it would be possible for construction to commence in about a year.

A final engineering study and negotiation of a road agreement with Ellis County Public Works also will be on the to-do list.

The company also will need to go through the permit process with the city of Hays, as eight turbines tentatively have been located within the 3-mile radius under city jurisdiction, she said.

An application requesting such a permit has not yet been filed, and the Hays Area Planning Commission is working to establish zoning regulations pertaining to wind energy.

Plans for this wind farm location began in summer 2003. Iberdrola took over the project in May 2007. The permit process officially began in spring of 2007, with the Ellis County Joint Planning Commission hearing the original application in March.

A new application was filed last month, with the joint planning commission conducting a public hearing June 25.

That means the total permit process took almost a year and a half, which is unusual in the industry, Gordon said.

"It's very rare for a permit process to take this long," she said. "It's unusual."