While construction of a $260 million, 79-turbine wind farm northeast of Benson is on hold, the developers are aggressively pursuing its expansion.
If all goes according to plan, Minneapolis-based Navitas Energy could actually begin construction of a 170-turbine farm, extending from the Benson location south toward El Paso and north into Clayton Township.
Plans are also under way for constructing 100 more turbines east of Interstate 39, between El Paso and Minonk, although that project is in its early phases.
“This could mean that there will be three projects under construction in 2008,” Woodford County Zoning Administrator John Hamann said.
Wanda Davies, project manager with Navitas, concurred, saying construction on the 170 turbines could occur at once, barring any possible setbacks.
“It would be quite a project,” she said.
For now, Navitas waits.
“As far as what is happening with (the 79-turbine) Benson project, it’s the same thing we’ve been saying all along, we don’t know if we’ll be building in 2007 or 2008,” Davies said. “Turbine availability is a big factor.”
Davies said global demand for turbines is high, perhaps at all-time highs, as wind farms become increasingly popular in the United States.
“There is a worldwide shortage and it’s impacting wind farms across the country,” Davies said. “There is so much growth in the industry and manufacturing has not kept up with it.”
In addition to waiting for turbines, Navitas has to jump through one more governmental hoop.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to document a wetland study of the area where the 79 turbines will be located. The Corps wants the study conducted during corn and soybean growing season.
A similar study was required before the $600 million, 240-turbine Twin Groves project in McLean County was allowed to begin, which local officials considered a “routine” matter.
“We have to demonstrate the areas of wetland soils are crop lands, which they are, and that we’re not destroying wetlands,” Davies said. “It’s not a longterm slow down. We just have to go out there during the growing season, take some pictures and show that it’s crop land.”
Slow downs in the Benson wind project are nothing new for Navitas, which has faced various road blocks since it first considered Woodford County for a wind farm several years ago.
Last year, Navitas faced some local opposition during its pursuit for a county-issued permit to construct the wind farm by three township boards – Panola, Clayton and Greene – over a road agreement. Those concerns have since been resolved.
While it’s unclear whether opposition will arise in Navitas’ pursuit to add an additional 50 turbines in Clayton Township and 40 near El Paso, Davies said the company is ready.
“You never get 100 percent of the people to agree on anything,” Davies said. “There is some opposition (to the two projects) but I haven’t seen anything extremely worrisome.”
Heavy opposition could await another Woodford County wind project in April, if the McLean County Board approves a request March 20 to allow it in their county.
The $250 million, 100-turbine White Oak Wind Energy Center involves about 20 turbines planned for Woodford County near Carlock.
Earlier this month, the McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals voted to allow the wind farm in its county, despite heavy opposition and 13 hearings concerning it.
By John Sharp
Of the Journal Star
686-3234 or email@example.com
26 February 2007
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