September 28, 2006

Woodford wind farm project will move forward

One of the largest developments to ever hit Woodford County is one step closer to reality.

By a 5-0 vote Wednesday, the Woodford County Zoning Board of Appeals endorsed a special-use permit allowing the developers of a 79-turbine wind farm to construct their approximately $260 million facility on more than 4,800 acres of farmland northeast of Benson.

All that remains for the project’s final go-ahead is approval from the County Board. That board is expected to vote on the permit during its Oct. 17 meeting.

“This has enormous benefits to the citizens of Woodford County,” said attorney Dennis Triggs, who represents Minneopolis-based Navitas Energy, the developers of the wind farm, which will be operated as Benson Wind Energy LLC.

Navitas officials will have to meet 20 different conditions either before or after the wind farm is developed sometime next year.

Some of those provisions include securing a $3.1 million surety bond in the event the turbines need to be removed, meet federal aviation requirements on height and lighting requirements on each turbine, and contribute $15,000 to local fire departments for training.

In addition, Navitas officials must reach an agreement with three townships where the turbines will be erected – Clayton, Panola and Greene – regarding the reconstruction of rural roads that could be damaged when work crews arrive with the large turbine structures.

“There is a couple of details that need to be worked out,” said Wanda Davies, project developer with Navitas. “We are absolutely committed to leaving these roads in as good of a condition as we found them. We’re intending to pay for their repairs as they happen.”

The ZBA’s decision came after Navitas representatives, a Spring Valley appraiser and a Mendota Hills farmer spoke in favor of the wind farm.

“It’s the best thing to ever happen to our community,” said Elmer Rhoads, 69, and a farmer in Lee County where in 2003, Navitas constructed a 63-turbine wind farm on 2,200 acres.

Five of those turbines are on Rhoads’ property.

“We are very satisfied over what took place,” he said.

Very few people spoke opposing the wind farm project, although Zoning Board member Nick Pisano asked a slew of questions ranging from what will happen with excavated dirt during construction to worries about hot-air balloons, raptors and other birds of prey, and ultralight helicopters getting struck by one of the turbine blades.

When completed, the wind farm’s turbines will tower about 400 feet from the bottom to the top of each blade, which is considerably higher than Peoria’s 29-story Twin Towers.

The entire project will develop about 160 megawatts of electricity, which would be utilized by ComEd to supply energy to the Chicago area.

“A lot of the concerns people have are nonexistent,” Rhoads said about those worries and others, including whether the turbines could disrupt cell phone or TV reception. “Please do not listen to what the Internet has to say. It’s just not there.”

John Sharp can be reached at 686-3234 or

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