New wind farm already a windfall

11/21/2013

Revenue from EMS service contract to benefit county.

Revenue from EMS service contract to benefit county.

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

An agreement in March for Finney County EMS to provide standby services during the construction of the Buffalo Dunes wind farm project may end up to be a better deal than expected for the county.

In late March, Finney County signed a contract with Renewable Energy Systems Americas, Inc. (RES) to allow the county Emergency Medical Services to provide on-site standby during the construction of the wind farm over the next 10 months.

So far, the county has received about $245,180 in revenue from the wind farm contract, with a couple of months to go. Payments to the county are made monthly.

"We expected to make some additional money. The commission would not have agreed to do this for the wind farm if we were going to lose money at county taxpayers' expense. But I think we probably have done better than what was expected," Randy Partington, county administrator, said.

Partington isn't sure yet how much of the revenue received so far is profit — that won't be determined until the numbers are crunched at the end — but it's safe to say revenues are at least meeting and possibly exceeding estimates.

"It's going to more than cover the cost for us to be down there. We will have some revenue — I don't have a dollar amount — that will help," he said. "I'm hoping it will help with some of the maintenance issues we're having with our current ambulances that are breaking down quite often."

Ambulance issues have covered a broad spectrum of ailments the past several months.

"It's been tires, catalytic converters, starters. It's everything, and we aren't sure why," Partington said. "We're definitely looking at alternatives. Maybe a different type of vehicle next time. We don't know if it's the type of vehicle or what's taking place. We just got a bunch of lemons, we don't know."

Work started on Buffalo Dunes on April 1. The project is expected to be complete by Dec. 1. RES, the general contractor of the project, and TradeWind Energy, the developer of Buffalo Dunes, are building 135 wind turbines for the 250 megawatt Buffalo Dunes wind farm, which will cover more than 40,000 acres of land in Finney, Haskell and Grant counties by the time it is completed.

RES is paying the cost of labor, supplies and equipment. Initial estimates indicated the county could see up to $175,000 in profit by the end of the contract, depending on how many hours EMS was on the site. The actual profit won't be known for awhile, but it's looking like the number may exceed estimates.

It's possible enough revenue will be generated to allow the county to buy a new ambulance a year early next year without affecting property taxes. The county typically budgets for a new ambulance every two years, Partington said, at a cost of roughly $150,000.

Revenue from the wind farm project goes into the county ambulance fund. Partington said the county commission may decide to do a year-end budget transfer to cover the cost of a new ambulance in 2014 if it decides to go that route.

County Commission Chairman Dave Jones said the contract was an opportunity to help neighboring counties that didn't have the manpower or equipment to provide that service.

"It was a neighborly thing to do, and it turned out financially to be somewhat rewarding, so all in all I'm pleased," Jones said.

Jones and other commissioners had some doubts at first.

"We didn't quite understand, no one understood what the commitment was going to be. As a big project like that starts, they have time frames, a schedule and so on, and you hope to stay with it," he said. "But you do have those lingering concerns if this thing gets strung out for a long time beyond schedule, it might create potential problems. But it turned out that it worked very well."

In March, the contract called for one regular EMS employee to staff the office whenever work was under way at the site, on 12- and 24-hour shifts through the end of January 2014. Finney County EMS currently has a technician on-site 12 hours per day, but over the past several months has had personnel at the wind farm around the clock, depending on the production schedule. EMS was there to respond if a construction worker were injured, prepare them for transport and call in other emergency responders from Grant or Haskell counties who would transport to a medical facility in those counties.

Michael Paz-Torres, emergency management coordinator and one of two interim EMS directors, said that while at times EMS manned the site around the clock, individual personnel worked no more than 12 hours at a time.

"We're there to do immediate care," Paz-Torres said. "One of those other agencies would come and transport them. We don't pull from our coverage, city and county, to go down there and work. We still keep full coverage in Finney County."

No information was provided about the number or types of injuries EMS has seen. Paz-Torres said that information needed to come from RES. Attempts to contact RES officials for this story were unsuccessful.

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