Farmers say the wind blows hard enough in Magnolia Township to knock them off their tractors.
But that could be a good thing for a renewable energy company exploring the idea of building a wind farm there.
EcoEnergy of Beloit wants to see how much wind really is blowing through the town. They’ll do that by erecting a 197-foot tower topped with sensors to measure temperature and wind speed.
EcoEnergy is a wind developer that’s working on projects throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. It has an office in Beloit and is a member of The MORSE Group, which includes specialty companies anchored in the electrical, energy and construction markets.
Magnolia Township’s planning and zoning committee already recommended approval of a conditional-use permit for the tower. The town board will vote Tuesday night on the permit, which would be valid for up to three years.
Equipment on the tower would record wind and temperature data for at least a year, said Gary Haltaufderheide, a wind project associate with EcoEnergy.
The tower would be much skinnier than a radio tower-more like a flagpole-and would stand at the southeast corner of Highway 213 and County B, he said.
Tom Drew owns the farm there, and he and his fiance have researched wind farms and their impact on communities.
“Based on what we know so far, we’re encouraged by it, but we’re still learning,” said his fiance Laurie Welch. “But it needs to be a good fit for the community.”
The bigger picture
The first task to start a wind farm is gathering data to make sure there’s enough consistent wind to make it economical, Haltaufderheide said.
“We all have a good gut feeling, but you can’t take that to the bank,” he said. “One turbine alone will cost about $3 million, so you don’t want to have just a gut feeling.”
The area attracted EcoEnergy partly because of its elevation and a transmission line south of Dorner Road.
“That’s key to wind turbines,” he said. “You have to hook up into the transmission line.”
Once the company has more than a year’s worth of data from the tower, it can start visualizing the project.
Haltaufderheide stressed it’s all in the early planning stages, and the public needs to be educated about the idea. He would not commit to a number of wind turbines the company would like to put up if it decides to build a wind farm.
“Wind farms range from five turbines up to 50 turbines,” is all he would say.
If there is “good wind”-around 12-15 miles per hour on a consistent basis-the company would do a study on the transmission grid to see how much energy it could transmit.
All this takes time, Haltaufderheide repeated, and three years from now would be the earliest a wind turbine would be installed if everything falls into place.
Each turbine would connect through underground cables to a substation, then energy would flow into the transmission grid, “to Madison or back to Evansville-wherever. (The) energy could go to Pennsylvania,” he said.
EcoEnergy also is exploring options in Union Township, and Haltaufderheide said he has met with a couple landowners, but no proposals have been brought to the town board.
How does it work?
Wind farms work well with farmers, Haltaufderheide said. One turbine takes up one-quarter of an acre and provides enough energy for 500 homes annually, he said.
“If you look at a typical farm area of 40 acres, you’re only taking up a quarter of an acre, and then an access road to maintain it,” he said.
Farmers often have access roads already, he said, and EcoEnergy tries to follow fence lines and work with landowners and neighbors.
He wants people to be educated about wind farms before jumping to say all the township’s farm land would be eaten up.
“If we put 40 turbines out there that would be about 10 acres,” he said. “Everyone thinks we’re going to gobble it up. We’re not going to be destroying any agricultural property.”
Forty turbines could power 20,000 homes each year.
The turbines are large white poles with three blades, measuring 380 feet from the ground to the top of the blade. Examples of wind farms include Mendota Hills Wind Farm near Interstate 39 in northern Illinois and Montfort Wind Farm in Iowa County.
Their own perspective
Welch and Drew wanted to see a wind farm for themselves before agreeing to have the testing tower on their land. The couple has been researching wind energy on the Internet and visited the Montfort Wind Farm, which was completed in July 2001 and has 20 wind turbines, according to the company’s Web site.
“We couldn’t support what we didn’t really know about,” she said.
The couple believes in renewable energy and has been interested in Evansville’s biodiesel plant, but they didn’t know much about wind energy. They knocked on doors in Montfort to hear what businesses, farmers, landowners and neighbors of the wind farm think of their new industry.
“To be perfectly honest, the only negative thing they said was they couldn’t get more of them (wind turbines) because the transmission line couldn’t handle them,” Welch said.
Noise didn’t seem to be an issue, she said, because even on the very windy day they were there, they had to shut off their car while parked on a road next to the turbines to hear them.
“It’s still in an education process for us and the community. Based on what we know of wind energy and EcoEnergy as a company, we’re very encouraged,” Welch said. “But it needs to be a good fit for the community. I just can’t even stress that enough.”
By Gina Duwe
25 March 2007
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