November 7, 2007

Wind farm agreement put on hold

Ottawa city commissioners Tuesday put the brakes on an agreement to expand an enterprise zone to include a wind energy farm south of the city.

In September, Chicago-based Invenergy asked the city to expand its enterprise zone that now stretches from Ottawa to Grundy County to include about 225 acres for a 66-turbine wind farm south of Ottawa. The turbines will be erected in Brookfield, Allen and Grand Rapids townships.

The incentive for Invenergy, now referred to as Grand Ridge Energy, would be state sales tax breaks on construction materials.

For Ottawa, the deal could add money to the city’s coffers per an agreement the developer would give the city 20 percent of the state sales tax savings.

But for two commissioners, the crux of the arrangement entailed another part of the agreement.

“I’m not in favor in that Grand Ridge (Energy) has asked the Ottawa Fire Department to provide emergency response services,” said Ed Whitney, commissioner of public health and safety. “I know they’re giving us a lot of money but I think we’re selling ourselves out.”

After the meeting, Whitney said it’s estimated the city could collect $1.5 million from Grand Ridge Energy in the course of several years.

Parks and Public Property Commissioner Wayne Eichelkraut agreed with Whitney.

“I really don’t see us sending our fire department out there É That’s a touchy situation,” said Eichelkraut, who added he just received a copy of the agreement at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, giving him little time to review the details.

Eichelkraut’s concerns also lie with the availability of only two ambulances.

Streets Commissioner Dale Baxter noted there have been negotiation meetings with the developer and said the additional money provided to the city could help buy equipment for the fire department.

However, upon the dissent of the two commissioners, Baxter withdrew his motion to place the agreement on file, adding the council will discuss the matter later.

Finance Commissioner Dan Aussem was not at the meeting, and Mayor Robert Eschbach has said he will not vote on the issue and will merely monitor discussion as he has represented Invenergy as an attorney.

Asked whether he favors the proposal to provide emergency services, Fire Chief Jim Duback said after the meeting he had not yet seen the agreement.

The enterprise zone extends east to Grundy County, and at some points includes very skinny strips of land. The enterprise zone, by state statute, can only expand another 3 square miles. If the expansion for Invenergy is approved, the amount of land needed would be .35 square miles, leaving 2.65 square miles for future expansion. There is no cost to the city for the expansion.

The project would provide between 150 to 200 construction jobs. The turbines are expected to power between 350 to 400 homes each, and the project is expected to cost between $140 to $150 million.

By Tammy Sloup

The Times

7 November 2007

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