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Windmill idea generates worry over noise

A proposed windmill that would soar 250 feet above the skyline near dozens of homes in Hanover Park could save the local school district millions of dollars in energy costs, officials said.

But the proposed 1.6-megawatt turbine has sparked an outcry from anxious village trustees who said it would be a noisy eyesore that could lead to windmills sprouting like weeds across the west suburb.

With Commonwealth Edison rate increases, the wind turbine would bring financial relief to Keeneyville School District 20 amid shortfalls that could force officials to cut programs or ask taxpayers for more money, said Fred Lane, an attorney for the district.

District officials said the structure, planned for the campus of Greenbrook Elementary School, 5208 Arlington Circle, would trim electric bills and earn money as the district sells excess energy to ComEd. The district expects to save more than $8 million over the windmill’s 30-year lifetime.

The proposal represents the latest effort by a Chicago-area school district to conserve electricity and save money by using renewable resources.

While Keeneyville would be one of the few Illinois school districts to have a windmill, two miniature turbines that look like large fans are expected to be installed on the roof of the Daley Center and eight more in the proposed Ford Calumet Environmental Center on the Far South Side.

In Hanover Park the projected $2 million price tag for the windmill reflects the rising cost of the structures.

Turbine production has slowed among the five manufacturers who rely on a complex network of suppliers to construct more than 80 percent of windmills around the world.

“Prices have gone up substantially,” said Jim Mann, executive director of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. “The industry capacity to build turbines is not enough to meet the market demand.”

To recover the costs, Keeneyville has applied for a grant from the foundation, which has funded 10 studies and three installations of wind turbines at Illinois school districts since 2003.

But Keeneyville’s application has been jeopardized by the resistance from Hanover Park trustees, Mann said.

“We’re not going to issue a grant when there’s not underlying support from the local community,” he said.

For the turbine to become reality, Hanover Park must amend an ordinance capping any structure’s height at 150 feet, a rule that has been waived only for the village water tower, which stands at 168 feet.

Village trustees recently approved building a preliminary test tower to measure wind speed.

The turbine would rotate about 28 times a minute and shut itself down when winds exceed 18 m.p.h. or ice accumulates on its blades, Lane said.

“We’re not talking about a fan,” he said. “It’s more like watching a lava lamp.”

Village President Rodney Craig has embraced the idea that Hanover Park might become a national model for wind energy’s potential in suburbia.

“It could put us in National Geographic,” he said.

But Trustee William Manton said the setting sun behind the turning blades of a turbine creates a “strobe effect” that could trigger epileptic seizures, a concern disputed by experts.

And Trustee Robert Packham said that although windmills are a source of clean energy, they’re also a source of noise pollution.

“Stand next to one of those huge blades,” he said. “Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.”

Village Clerk Sherry Craig said a wind turbine on the campus of Bureau Valley High School in Manlius, Ill., turned in silence when she visited recently.

By Gerry Smith | Tribune staff reporter

Chicago Tribune

20 August 2007