The Henry County planning committee Monday night unanimously ruled Invenergy’s 266-permit application for a wind energy farm consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan.
The firm has signed up 168 landowners with a total of 377 parcels in their project area, stretching from rural Galva to rural Woodhull.
During a formal presentation to the planning committee, Invenergy project manager Mike Arndt said the 400-megawatt wind farm would power 150,000 American homes and offer $6 million in property tax revenue every year to local schools and other Henry County taxing districts.
Illinois wants eight percent of its energy to be derived from alternative energy sources by 2012.
Why Henry County? Arndt said it has three things: a great wind resource, a lot of open land and nearby transmission lines.
Some of the 30 residents who attended the hearing expressed some concerns.
John Oliver of rural Kewanee said if soybean rust infests the county’s bean fields, even the farmers with adjoining property won’t be able to spray their fields.
Arndt said he couldn’t speak for all pilots, but at Wisconsin wind farms, pilots have said they are willing to spray in the general vicinity of the wind turbines.
Lori and Jim Morrissey of Bishop Hill and a relatively new Bishop Hill resident who declined to give a name other than “Tim” expressed concern about the historic character of the town being changed by proximity to wind farms.
“It’s going to be taking our landscape away from us,” said Mrs. Morrissey. “People who live around here don’t realize what’s going on unless they’re a farmer.”
“Tim” was ambivalent. “I haven’t visualized it yet, how it’s going to affect Bishop Hill. Is it going to take away from it? Is it going to add to it?” he said, adding he knows people see other obstacles on the horizon.
“I know it’s just a matter of opinion.”
Near the end of the evening, Morris Nelson said he supported the establishment of a wind energy farm, but terming it just a “technicality,” he noted “Bishop Hill” is a registered trademark.
“There is a reason why the name is a registered trademark, and it should be protected,” he said.
Attorney Rip Everett of Galva said geographic names are in the public domain.
Other Bishop Hill residents – John Anderson, a descendant of an original colony settler, and Tim Campbell, a recent “import” – voiced strong support for the wind farm. Anderson said he felt two to three miles was not reasonable; turbines should be allowed closer to town.
“I think (the original settlers) would enjoy seeing the windmills at work,” he said. “Another thing, I think they would be honored at seeing the project named after Bishop Hill.”
Planning committee members asked if Invenergy would have to come back to the county should it want to change the turbines to bigger ones or twin turbines.
Arndt said, however, the project is established, turbines greater than three megawatts aren’t feasible on land, and to prevent premature wear and tear on the machines, distances any closer than 2,000 feet aren’t viable with 1,500-kilowatt turbines.
“We’ll run those wind turbines as long as we can,” he said.
Dave Reppert of rural Andover encouraged everyone to work out a compromise on each issue, and said while a break on his electric bill would be nice, it’s good to have schools benefit “tremendously.”
Arndt said Invenergy is a wholesale generator of electricity, and the price the customer pays is “totally out of our hands.” He said the wind farms are “absolutely the cheapest source of energy.”
Regarding tourism, he said in Montana, a 135-megawatt wind farm “200 miles from anywhere” did attract tourists, and a store there reported “more visitors than it ever had.” In Wisconsin, Arndt said, use of a state park rose 10 percent after a wind farm went up nearby.
Arndt said Invenergy still needs permits from the Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration. He said they will observe any setback from Bishop Hill required by historic preservation officials.
The motion to find the wind farm consistent with the county’s plan was made by Steve Brandau of Cambridge and seconded by Steve Weber of Geneseo.
The county board will take up the Invenergy application at its Oct. 10 meeting.
By Lisa Hammer of the Star Courier
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