Hartem FFA team comes up with plenty of answers about Logan County proposal
High winds didn’t keep more than 60 area citizens from attending Monday’s public hearing.
After all, wind was exactly what they were interested in.
Hartsburg-Emden High School’s FFA Ag Issues Team – which took fourth in the nation last year for a similar forum – was preparing to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed Rail Splitter Wind Farm, which Horizon Wind Energy would like to place in Logan and Tazewell counties.
“I’ve got a couple (proposed turbines) on my land,” one man confided to another before the hearing started.
Citizen participation throughout the forum indicated some local residents are very concerned about the proposed wind farm.
The six-student team was more than prepared to answer questions.
Josh Clark, in FFA attire, explained how the forum worked in his role as moderator. To his right, Nolan Lessen prepared to play the role of a wind company representative and Alex Lessen stepped in as Logan County’s legal counsel.
As each young man gave his presentation, citizens learned that the Rail Splitter Wind Farm will bring 66 turbines to Logan and Tazewell counties, 20 of which will be in Hartem’s school district. The farm will be 7.5 miles long and will deliver 100 megawatts of energy to the area.
Emma Cross took the podium when they finished. She played the part of a worried citizen, asking first about turbine fires. Nolan Lessen assured her they were rare and Alex Lessen said area fire departments have been trained in responding to such a disaster.
Cross, in her role, remained unconvinced of the value of the wind farm. She said she lives in the country because she enjoys its peace.
“Now when I look out my window … I’ll see ugly towers, flickering shadows, flashing lights and no wildlife,” she said.
Tommy Zinser then stepped in, playing the role of a farmer whose land would host at least one turbine. He said livestock can graze right up to the base of the turbine. Farmers will also be able to grow crops right next to turbines. One turbine will reduce farmland by only about half an acre.
“Wind energy is a homegrown energy source, just like my corn and soybeans,” Zinser told the crowd.
Danielle Horn, like Cross, addressed the medical issue. Both young women cited research that claims long-term exposure to wind farms can cause serious health issues, from an increased risk of heart attack to problems for epileptics.
With the students’ presentation at an end, the FFA team opened the forum to questions and comments from all present.
One woman said she had contacted Realtors who told her that a wind farm would decrease property values by 10 to 15 percent – an amount unlikely to be offset by the increased tax base the farm would bring.
Team members also pointed out that the wind farm will not affect electricity rates. An electric company – it’s looking like AmerenCILCO right now, Alex Lessen said – will buy the energy and sell it along with its other energy.
“Your electricity will come from the same place it always has,” said Betsy Pech, the team’s coach.
The team did determine, however, that the wind farm will stabilize electric rates in Illinois. Illinois and Indiana are both prime spots for wind farms because they have high electric rates and enough wind to keep a farm running. Illinois also has legislation in place that 10 percent of energy produced must be “green” by the year 2020. Of that 10 percent, 75 percent must come from wind.
Meeting that quota could be complicated because of the fickle nature of wind – as evidenced by the blustery weather.
The team said a turbine’s arms start turning when the wind reaches 8 mph. At 12 mph, the turbines start producing energy. They stop producing energy at 25 mph, and brakes are applied if the speed reaches 45 mph. Zinser also demonstrated on a human-sized model that the blades will turn in their base when wind is that fast, slowing the turbine down and preventing damaging.
Other issues the team addressed included the affect on wildlife, electronics and area roads.
The only evidence of danger to birds comes from a wind farm in California that was located on a migratory path, they said.
While electronics might be affected, Horizon’s contract says they will fix any such problems. Zinser cited an example of a woman whose rabbit-ear TV wouldn’t work and Horizon gave her a satellite dish.
Zinser also said he’d talked to an area crop duster while doing his research on electronics. The pilot said he was going to be charging $50 more per acre for farmers with turbines.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty in putting in a wind farm, though, is its impact on roads. Each tower is massive, and bringing in such big parts will take a toll on local road surfaces. The team said it would take 49 cement-truck loads to make the 65-foot-wide base for one turbine.
“This is going to tear the heck out of your roads,” Zinser said bluntly, prompting chuckles from the audience.
Trucks will probably also tear chunks out of the corners of fields, he said. Horizon promises to compensate farmers for such losses and also will restore roads once the wind farm is finished.
The team said Horizon has a decommissioning fund on hand as well – meaning that if the wind farm goes out of business, they have enough money set aside to remove the turbines. However, most of the concrete bases will remain even after the turbines are gone.
Each turbine will cost $3 million to install. Horn said the government gives tax subsidies to the wind farm company to promote green energy, and that’s how they afford such expenses.
Another issue for area farmers is the million-pound crane required to construct the turbines. The soil compaction will affect growth wherever the huge crane has been. Horizon will provide compensation for yield loss for three years.
Cross mentioned that the company changes hands a lot and is currently owned by a Portugal-based business, a fact that seemed to surprise many citizens. Questions about job loss quickly followed.
Team members said the wind farm’s construction will create 250 jobs, but only 5 will be required for routine maintenance. However, they added – and audience members confirmed – that other area jobs won’t be lost because of the wind farm. The farm will only provide supplemental energy. It won’t put any other energy sources out of business.
Those who have more questions about the proposed Rail Splitter Wind Farm and its affect on Logan County should attend a forum from 5 to 8 p.m. today in the Emden Community House. Representatives from the Horizon Wind Energy will be available for questioning.
By Erin Frost
29 January 2008
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