Wind farm to locate in St. Mary

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Pending the state Public Service Commission’s approval, St. Mary Parish could become home to the Southeast’s first wind farm.

Southern States Renewable Energy of Metairie is looking to build and operate a $40 million, 20-megawatt wind farm in an agricultural zone near La. Highway 83, just south of the Port of West St. Mary and the Four Corners/Glencoe area.

The St. Mary Parish Council granted the company a specific use permit last week.

With the state PSC’s approval, construction would take approximately nine months and the farm could begin generating power as early as next October, according to John Treen, the company’s president.

Treen is the brother of the late state Gov. Dave Treen.

Citing his reasons for selecting St. Mary as the base for the country’s first wind farm, Treen said wind speeds and the site’s proximity to a transmission station made it most desirable.

“The wind speeds here are one of the best in the state,” he said. “And the area we have in mind is very close to a CLECO transmission station, which is necessary for our operation.”

With the United States aggressively seeking fuel alternatives, Treen said energy generated by wind farms are a viable option.

“Wind energy is part of the future of this country and the world,” he explained. “It has been predicted that we will see dramatic shortages of fossil fuel over the next 20, 30, even 40 years. This is a way for us to get a jump-start to the future.

“This will be the first wind farm in the southeast from Virginia to Florida to Texas.”

Once operational, the farm is projected to produce enough electricity to run 12,000 homes, according to William “Bill” Gallardo, chairman of Southern States.

Construction of the wind farm will require 45 workers for six to eight months. He said another six to 10 full-time workers will maintain the plant’s turbines.

“Our full-time jobs will pay $40,000 to $50,000 yearly,” Gallardo said.

With blades 270 feet in diameter, each wind mill stands as tall as a 30-story building, a minimum., he said. Although Southern States does not have a specific customer for its renewable power at present, Gallardo said the company is in talks with Entergy and CLECO.

“We do know that all of the Southeast has nothing,” he said. “Louisiana will boast the first renewable project when this takes off the ground.

Wind farms generate a second boon, too, he said – tourists.

“When the first wind farm in this country opened in New Jersey, within its first year, it drew 15,000 visitors,” Gallardo said. “Naturally, we will offer tours of our facility as well.”

Frank Fink, the parish director of economic development, touted Southern States’ arrival, noting he’s been courting the company for more than a year.

“You know, oil – or black gold – has been our diamond industry,” he told the council. “Now, we’re getting an opportunity to create green gold for the parish.”

The company is slated to hold a 10-year property tax abatement, according to Fink. But once operational, it will “eventually yield a good property tax, as well as sales taxes to the parish.

“We will have our foot in the green door,” he said. “This is all very positive.”