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Eastern Carroll County residents resolute in blocking proposed Nimbus wind facility

County Road 905, which traverses high Ozark mountain meadows and forests in southeastern Carroll County will become congested with heavy industrial traffic if Scout Clean Energy proceeds with installing nearly 50 giant wind turbines on 9,500 acres of leased private land.
Courtesy
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Caroline Rogers
County Road 905, which traverses high Ozark mountain meadows and forests in southeastern Carroll County will become congested with heavy industrial traffic if Scout Clean Energy proceeds with installing nearly 50 giant wind turbines on 9,500 acres of leased private land.

Caroline Rogers stands beneath a large elm tree this morning on a pasture southeast of Green Forest in Carroll County. She gestures toward a craggy mountain ridge in the distance.

"Around here, everyone has springs or wells, or they truck in water or have water catchment," she said. "So if during the construction — if they pierce our spring or they divert our spring — we could lose our water."

Rogers, the founder of Stop Wind Farms AR, refers to collateral damage she claims will result if Boulder, Colorado-based Scout Clean Energy succeeds in erecting Nimbus, a sprawling private industrial wind generation plant.

A fabricated Nimbus web image represents a lone industrial wind turbine, one of nearly 50 planned for installation on a high ridge top mountain range in southeastern Carroll County.
Courtesy
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Scout Clean Energy
A fabricated Nimbus web image represents a lone industrial wind turbine, one of nearly 50 planned for installation on a high ridge top mountain range in southeastern Carroll County.

"Our county roads are for most purposes just one car wide," she said. "So they will have to widen 48 miles of county roads. It could take two years to do that. So that means all these residents are going to be impacted with delays, with a huge amount of dust. They're going to take down the trees that are near the road line, which is basically our dust barrier. You've got to figure there's probably a couple hundred workers. So you've got those trucks. Then you've got tower cranes coming in, and then you've got the trucks that will haul the 200-foot-long blades, which have, I believe, 20 wheels on them."

Carroll County Judge David Writer, who claims to have no control over private developments in the county, announced late last month he is entering into a road use agreement with Scout Clean Energy to install Nimbus.

Scout land agents initially secured nearly 50 lease pre-agreements from four dozen property owners to erect wind turbines. Rogers said that number has been reduced to 11 mostly absentee property owners who have agreed to accommodate 46 ridgetop turbines, some reaching nearly 700 feet high. In exchange, Scout is offering property owners roughly $14 million in lease earnings over the 30-year life of Nimbus. That's in addition to $25 million in sales tax revenue promised to nearby communities and schools.

"So any taxes that are paid, 20% goes to the county and 80% goes to the schools," Rogers said. "So supposedly there is a big windfall for the schools. But all of that is determined by how much profit they have, what the taxes are, if they're going to protest the taxes, if they're going to pay the taxes, if they're going to keep the project, or if they're going to sell the project. And is it going to last for 30 years?"

The industrial turbines will hold giant nacelles that house drivetrains, rotor shafts, gearboxes, and generators, affixed with massive blades designed to catch intermittent high-altitude winds.

"Let's first differentiate," Rogers explained. "A windmill is like 60 to 100 feet tall, and they look nice. But a wind turbine, these are proposed at 698 feet tall. The nacelle is the size of a couple of school buses. All these components weigh tons. The blades are 200 feet long. From a distance, people say they look cute and nice, but when you're living around them, it's a totally different story."

Stop Wind Farms AR
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FACEBOOK
Rural eastern Carroll County residents shown protesting against Nimbus.

If built, Nimbus will be among the largest commercial mountaintop wind power facilities in the southeastern U.S., where land-based wind farms remain scant, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

As an independent commercial power producer, Scout plans to market the energy out of state. As such, the company will not be subject to strict Arkansas Public Service Commission regulatory oversight and public review.

Late last year, Scout signed a high-voltage transmission line construction agreement with Entergy Arkansas and Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, to offload Nimbus-produced power into the MISO grid, which supplies 15 states.

A new four-mile-long high-voltage Entergy transmission line will interconnect the ridgetop Nimbus wind array to an Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation-owned substation south of Green Forest for export into the MISO grid. That portion of the Nimbus project, if it proceeds, could be subject to Arkansas Public Service Commission scrutiny, according to Arkansas utility easement expert Julie Morton.

Caroline Rogers said Entergy, as a public utility, has the power of eminent domain to take private property required for transmission line installation.

"So that means those 11 landowners have now opened up their entire neighborhood to eminent domain for private gain."

Former Carroll County Judge Richard Williams and Carroll County resident Caroline Rogers have spent the past sixteen months educating property owners in southeastern Carroll County about Nimbus.
J.Froelich
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KUAF
Former Carroll County Judge Richard Williams and Carroll County resident Caroline Rogers have spent the past sixteen months educating property owners in southeastern Carroll County about Nimbus.

Former Carroll County Judge Richard Williams, founder of the nonprofit Concerned Citizens of Carroll County, first learned about Nimbus from a neighbor early last year.

"Because the neighbor was stopped by some workers wanting to know who owned a particular piece of property," he said, "because they needed it for a staging site for the wind farm coming in. And when she got home, she called me."

With no public notice, Scout has been prospecting for wind in eastern Carroll County since the company was founded eight years ago, erecting meteorological test towers to measure high-altitude wind velocities. One test tower is down the road from Williams' retirement ridgetop homestead, which could be surrounded by turbines on land leased by neighbors, he said.

Former Carroll County Judge Richard Williams, sits on the front porch of his retirement mountain top home in southeastern Carroll County.
J.Froelich
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KUAF
Former Carroll County Judge Richard Williams sits on the front porch of his retirement ridge top homestead, which he said will be surrounded by industrial wind turbines if the Nimbus development proceeds.

He's relentlessly lobbied Carroll County Quorum Court officials to comply with the county's comprehensive land use planning ordinance to block Nimbus. A majority of the quorum court claims that the ordinance only protects private property rights. In late June, county officials also rejected a new proposed ordinance to limit wind tower height and locations.

Williams also pressed for a moratorium asking county officials to investigate Nimbus, which failed. So he, Rogers and other opponents continue to probe project development. Most recently Williams said, he was contacted by a couple moving to his ridge top neighborhood. The couple were alarmed by a letter mailed to them in mid-June by a Scout Clean Energy land agent, which they shared with Williams.

The letter states: "We're closing in on final layout of turbines, underground cable, county roads and access roads with our construction team," offering the couple a cash bonus, rent and royalty payments if they sign a lease agreement allowing work crews to clear a portion of their private property along County Road 905, a key Nimbus construction access route.

Caroline Rogers said despite years of covert activity in the county by Scout officials, a majority of the 11-member county quorum court continue to support the Nimbus development.

"The quorum court didn't even know what a wind turbine was," she said. "Three of those justices did their own research and found out this is not a good place for wind turbines. And the others, they keep harping on private property rights. But our issue is, at what point do the nuisances on your private property cause enough problem for your neighbor — because it's already stated in the contract that there are going to be flashing red lights at night, there's going to be vibration, there's going to be an increase in noise and electromagnetic interference, plus changing the roads, plus the possibility of eminent domain."

Williams recently met with the Arkansas fire marshal and was told Scout will have to comply with the state's fire prevention code. Rogers warned Arkansas ranks among the top 10 states for lightning strikes.

"So you put a 698-foot tall structure on top of a 2,000-foot tall ridgeline, with as many lightning strikes as we get around here? It just could be a recipe for disaster."

If Scout Clean Energy locates a wind power purchaser, giant industrial turbines will be erected on top of high mountain ridges like these in southeastern Carroll County.
J.Froelich
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KUAF
If Scout Clean Energy locates a wind-power purchaser, a constellation of giant industrial turbines could appear on high mountain ridges across southeastern Carroll County.

Wind turbines more than 200 feet high require Federal Aviation Administration approval, she said. Both Rogers and Williams have met with FAA officials to share their concerns about flyway hazards.

"The FAA has already had two comment periods even though they have deemed these industrial turbines as a hazard for general aviation," Rogers said. "We've spoken to pilots and they are very upset about this for general aviation."

Scout officials advertise that Nimbus will generate "hundreds of high-quality jobs, energy independence, local manufacturing, and a healthier planet." Yet the company did not publicly disclose project planning until it was forced to early last year after a series of investigative reports appeared in the local Eureka Springs Independent newspaper. As a consequence, Scout officials several months later hosted two public meetings to quell concerns. They also paid for newspaper advertising falsely claiming Nimbus will power tens of thousands of Arkansas homes.

"In February of 2023, they said this power was not going to Arkansas homes," Rogers said. "Then the next month they took out the ad claiming 40,000 homes. We don't know what is going on."

Richard Williams said at the Nimbus public meetings company officials displayed misleading information on turbine footings excavation. He's concerned because ridgetop terrain in eastern Carroll County is situated on fragile limestone karst riddled with underground streams, perched water tables, voids and caves.

"Last year at the public information meeting, they had a sheet that showed how the foundation was to be constructed," Williams said. "It was to be 70 feet square, four feet below the surface of the ground and then 10 feet reinforced concrete."

A 2023 Nimbus wind project map shows the location of proposed and planned turbines south of Green Forest and Alpena in eastern Carroll County.
Courtesy
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Stop Wind Farms AR
A 2023 Nimbus wind project map shows the location of proposed and planned turbines south of Green Forest and Alpena in eastern Carroll County.

Scout officials failed to respond to multiple requests for comment or to offer project clarification. But in an interview last year, Mark Wingersteen, vice president of development for Scout Clean Energy's East Region, said geotechnical core drilling to locate secure turbine sites indicates foundations depths could reach 16 to 20 feet deep.

"Carroll County has been our primary county in Arkansas," Wingersteen said. "Development for the Nimbus wind farm started in the early 2000s in Carroll County by another company, and we actually stepped in and continued development of the project going back to 2016."

In 2018, with no public disclosure, Scout officials began to develop a draft wildlife conservation plan with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, later submitting a draft Habitat Conservation Plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect sensitive and endangered species. Southeast Region Supervisory Public Affairs Specialist Jennifer Koches wrote via email that Scout has not submitted a final plan to the Federal Register that would open a 60-day public review and comment period. Scout has to secure a power purchaser by early next year and break ground on Nimbus to qualify for federal clean energy tax credits, valued, according to one company official, at nearly a third of total construction costs.

Fayetteville attorney Matt Bishop, a Carroll County native, was hired by county residents who oppose Nimbus, seeking to find a way to kill the project. He's not optimistic.

"What I will say is what I have told my clients is they don't have enough money," Bishop said. "Ultimately if [Scout Clean Energy] wants to go to war, they can go to war for years. It would be like fighting Exxon."

Scout Clean Energy, an independent renewable energy developer, is financially well-positioned to prevail in its quest to make the mountain ridges of southeastern Carroll County a proving ground for novel wind territory in the southeastern U.S. That's because the investment management firm that originally owned Scout sold it in 2022 for $1 billion to Brookfield Renewable, a giant global investor in renewable power with operations across five continents.

Matt Bishop has attended multiple quorum court meetings, where Scout officials have been present, pitching their project. Bishop said county officials now worry Scout may sue to protect Nimbus leaseholders.

"I keep hearing from the court that we could get sued because these people have contracts with Scout and blah blah blah," Bishop said. "And what these contracts with Scout are? Are just options. There is no promise that Scout will do anything. So there's not a claim when you don't have a contract."

This federal wind map reveals wind resources concentrated on the rugged Ozarks Plateau.
Courtesy
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National Renewable Energy Laboratory
This federal wind map reveals wind resources concentrated on the rugged Ozarks Plateau.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory wind speed maps reveal rich wind resources blowing at high altitudes across eastern Carroll County ridgetops — which standard smaller wind turbines are unable to capture. And that worries Caroline Rogers.

"There are 45 states that have wind turbines," she said, referring to private industrial wind plants. "Arkansas is just one of like five that do not have wind turbines. So they're looking for a foot in the door. They have to use our ridgetops."

But Rogers remains determined, having collected more than 2,000 signatures so far from folks looking to somehow run wind speculators once and for all out of Carroll County.

Ozarks at Large transcripts are created on a deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. The authoritative record of KUAF programming is the audio record.

Updated: July 10, 2024 at 10:44 AM CDT
This report has been updated to include recent transactional activities by Scout land agents.
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Jacqueline Froelich is an investigative reporter and news producer for <i>Ozarks at Large.</i>
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