Whether Illinois can sustain wind farms is still a mystery, according to several spokesmen who have studied the issue.
Roger Brown, the program manager for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs said the viability of wind farms in Illinois depends on more than just the wind supply. Brown said the price of electricity is also a determining factor.
“It’s a tough argument that there’s not enough wind energy,” he said.
Brown has studied wind energy at more than 10 sites throughout Illinois as part of a program called Documenting Illinois Wind. The program, which is funded by Illinois Clean Energy Foundation, recruited farmers to erect wind turbines on their property.
Brown stressed his study is not receiving money from the wind energy industry. He said the program’s mission is to disseminate the data and allow people to come to their own conclusions.
“Developers have contacted us to find out more information,” Brown said.
He wondered out loud
about people questioning Minneapolis-based Navitas Energy’s decision to pursue its project in Lancaster Township based on lack of wind.
“(Navitas) certainly should have enough experience,” Brown said.
Christopher Moore, Navitas Energy managing director, said the company has operated wind towers for several years and collected wind speed and other information. He also noted Navitas has relied on research provided by National Renewable Labs’ – which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy.
“Elevation typically equates to better wind,” Moore said.
He stressed the U.S. Department of Energy has done a lot of work in the area.
“We don’t just throw darts at the wall,” Moore said.
Brown noted it would be wise to collect at least one year of data before determining the ability of Illinois wind to generate electricity.
Bob Scott, a meteorologist at the Illinois State Water Survey, disagreed on the one-year research minimum. Scott believes at least three years of wind observation is necessary.
Illinois Water Survey’s James Angel said wind speed research has been largely relegated to airports. Angel said wind speed is monitored, beginning at 33 feet.
“We don’t have a lot of measures made across the state,” Angel said.
Scott concurred that wind speed data is hard to come by. He also said variables compromise the data. According to Scott, wind monitored above 50 meters is faster. He also said wind speeds at higher elevations are higher at night.
Scott avoided offering a definite opinion about the viability of wind farms in Illinois.
“We’re putting up a lot of wind farms, but we don’t have a lot of data,” Scott said.
He acknowledged wind could be a good alternate energy source, but noted “it’s only good when the wind is blowing.”
“Wind anywhere is not a constant source of energy,” Scott said.
He stressed his observations do not represent a conclusion about wind energy facilities.
“I’m not negating wind power at all. (But) we need adequate data to verify it,” Scott said.
Whether wind farms are feasible isn’t the only question Brown has researched. He’s looked into how wind farms could affect adjacent neighbors.
“(Light) flicker is a real issue,” Brown said.
Wind turbine designers have found ways to ensure flicker doesn’t impact homes, he said. According to Brown, flicker is only a factor when the turbine is hit with direct sunlight.
“(Flicker) can be managed,” Brown said.
He also investigated noise issues. Brown said he interviewed people at the base of a wind turbine who reported they could hear nothing. Though he acknowledged, at certain speeds, people said they could hear a “whooshing” sound or a bit of whistling sound. He said the sounds could travel about one-quarter mile or 1,320 feet.
“I don’t see it as a sound nuisance,” Brown said.
Turbines in the Lancaster township and the Freeport-based EcoEnergy project in Waddams Grove near Lena are expected to be between 1,200 and 1,800 feet from surrounding property lines. Brown said he didn’t believe one turbine would be much of a nuisance to those residents. He said rustling tree leaves would make more noise.
“None of it has ever been obnoxious,” he said, referring to the noise a single wind turbine generates.
Brown acknowledged he doesn’t live near a wind turbine, though he has spent a fair amount of time around them. Living near one turbine wouldn’t bother him, he said. But his attitude would most likely change if he were surrounded by hundreds of them, he said.
“There’s no doubt there’s some issue with proliferation,” Brown said.
By Jason Carson Wilson, The Journal-Standard
28 February 2007
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