Livingston County will be “courted” by developers of wind-energy farms, and its residents will have to make decisions about them through their elected officials, an Illinois State University professor told a Pontiac audience Wednesday morning.
“Illinois will have more wind farms. I think that’s a given,” J. Randy Winter of ISU’s Agriculture Department said in concluding his PowerPoint presentation as the speaker at the 63rd annual meeting of the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District. “It’s not a given where they will be.”
Livingston County is now one of the right places at the right time among areas in Illinois – 16th in the United States in wind-energy potential and currently 12th in installed and operating wind farms, partly because of its transmission system – for building wind-energy farms, Winter said as he concluded his presentation with the recommendation “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good” in weighing factors, ranging from aesthetics to bird fatalities, in deciding the future of wind farms in the county.
Winter is part of ISU’s Wind Energy Team, which administers the Illinois Wind Working Group, an organization whose stated purposes “are to communicate wind opportunities honestly and objectively, to interact with various stakeholders at the local, state, regional and national levels, and to promote economic development of wind energy in the state of Illinois.”
And in his talk to the county SWCD at the Pontiac Elks Lodge, Winter showed on the PowerPoint screen, and commented about, issues including environmental, economic development, electrical cost stability, and fuel diversity that relate to wind energy in the United States.
Texas is now first in the nation in wind-energy production, having passed California about two years ago. Those two states are “significantly ahead” of the other 48 in wind energy, he said. But he asked the audience to keep in perspective that, in Illinois, not all the projected wind farms will come about. If they do, however, they likely will follow the industry trend to larger rotor diameters on taller towers for wind turbines, to catch the most wind and as efficiently as possible.
“Turbines have become a lot more reliable” since the early 1980s, Winter said, a result of investment in research and technological development in the industry.
In weighing environmental factors in U.S. policy toward wind energy, Winter said there was “no perfect solution” but that wind energy, as opposed to coal- or nuclear-powered electricity generation, did not use water, did not require energy to generate energy and did not require use of fuel to generate power.
The economic impact of wind farms includes “some employment impact” while they are being built, some permanent and well-paying jobs after they’re in operation, and a long-term increase in the tax base, Winter said.
Operating costs of wind farms are “very, very small,” in effect providing “inflation-proof electricity” for the life of the wind farm, he said as he continued his presentation.
As a factor in the nation’s fuel diversity, Winter said, wind farms spread production sources, have an inexhaustible if not constant energy source,” are “just not that attractive” as a terrorist target but are a tourist attraction.
One of the preeminent arguments against wind power is aesthetics, he said, but he said every community where wind farms are planned has to decide on that factor.
At their current state of technology, wind turbines produce about 50 decibels – slightly less than the ambient noise in a typical home, he said. “Upwind design,” in which the rotor is upwind of its tower, reduces the thumping or whooshing sounds associated with wind turbines, blade-pitch control adjusts constantly to the speed of the wind, and today’s larger rotors spin much slower than their predecessors, typically at 10 to 20 revolutions per minute, Winter said as he continued his presentation.
The impact of wind farms on property values is unclear because of a lack of data, he said, noting that turbines tend to be built in areas where there are fewer houses, which turn over ownership less often than houses in towns.
Winter said that wind turbines are eighth on the list of bird fatalities per 10,000, ranking far below buildings and windows, cars, and house cats. He said the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society recognize the risks of wind turbines “even for birds” is less than that of building another coal-powered electricity-generating plant.
Winter also provided the audience with some Web sites and Illinois laws about wind-energy issues, including a “model ordinance” in Wisconsin and laws in Illinois about uniform tax assessment of wind turbines and the “net metering” law that requires utilities to buy electricity from wind-energy producers at the same price they sell it to them.
By John Faddoul, Staff Reporter
17 January 2008
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