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Winds of change make power play  

Wind equals power.

It’s an equation even the ancients understood when they crafted crude sails to help move rudimental reed boats.

But at least a portion of the power needed to run the households of tomorrow will also depend upon the world’s invisible rivers of air as “wind farms” sprout up to spin electric current from passing zephyrs.

“It’s never going to be the total solution, but it’s always going to be a part of our (power) portfolio,” said Illinois State University Agricultural Economics professor Randy Winter, an unabashed backer of wind power as a sensible addition to the growing repertoire of renewable energy sources.

Winter was the featured speaker at the 61st annual meeting of the Kankakee County Soil and Water Conservation District, an event which drew 90 landowners, producers and political leaders to Bradley’s Quality Inn last week.

Among them was SWCD Director Dave Peters, a Manteno farmer who owns a farm in Benton County, Ind., which is participating in a multi-farm wind farm now under construction there.

Elsewhere in the region, a wind farm is partially completed on a site east of Bloomington, and three sites in neighboring Livingston County have been proposed as wind-farm sites.

Wind farm subsidy

Wind farm entrepreneurs everywhere owe much to the federal production tax credit, a subsidy intended to coax infrastructure and technology development in the fledgling industry. Winter notes that growth spurts in the industry can be directly traced to periods in which the credit, which must be renewed annually, is in force. The same can be said for ethanol, though its tax credit does not “sunset” annually.

Winter said Illinois ranks 16th among states in terms of being a good site for wind farms, partly the reason some 93 wind-farm projects have been proposed for siting here. Texas leads in wind farm deployments.

So why is Illinois among the top ranked states for wind-power projects?

Winter says close proximity to a major use area – Chicago – and a well developed power grid into which wind generated power can be channeled help make it attractive.

Yet another reason is recent legislative initiatives enacted to help the state establish itself in the budding wind industry, said Winter.

“Illinois now has a renewable portfolio standard. That means by law, over time, the amount of energy we have to buy from renewable sources will ramp-up,” said Winter. Among other things that means that this year 2 percent of Illinois’ power must be from renewable sources; by 2015 the requirement is 15 percent and by 2025 fully 25 percent must come from renewables, which in addition to wind power includes ethanol and solar power. “But the expectation is that wind will carry the brunt of that,” said Winter.

Skeptics notwithstanding

Winter acknowledges that wind power is not without skeptics, including those who doubt its efficiency. He admits that wind-farm turbines run on average 40 percent of the time. And there are others who blame turbines for killing birds and scaring wildlife, say it’s too noisy to live near and claim wind farms are ugly additions to the otherwise pastoral horizon. Though admitting his own pro-wind bias, he dismisses many of those objections as subjective critique.

One objection that’s stalling wind-farm development in Livingston County is a requirement some in county government are insisting on – that all subterranean concrete anchors associated with windmill construction be entirely removed when a wind farm discontinues operation – something on the order of 270 cubic yards of concrete.

According to wind-farm critic Eric Rosenbloom of Kirby, Vt., some large projects like the one at Buffalo Mountain, Tenn., have special 30-foot-deep footings that took 3,500 cubic yards. But Winter says the more usual contract requirement pertaining to footing removal is for the builder to remove the footing to a depth of 4 feet below grade, allowing the site to be farmed. The more likely result is that the agreement will be renewed at the end of a typical 25- to 30-year contract period and new, improved turbines installed.

Landowners who host wind farms can earn $3,000 a year per the tower’s rated megawatt capacity. And it adds tax income to the hosting county, said Winter, adding that taxing each megawatt of output can yield some cash and can also serve as a control mechanism over wind-farm sitings.

“If you’re a county that wants to attract these, you can influence it. If you’re a county that wants to keep them away, you can keep them away,” said Winter, adding some counties chose to take $8,400 for each megawatt. Others levied a hefty $13,200 – numbers sure to make an impression on developers considering locating in your neck of the woods.

WIND FARM FACTS:

At present there are four wind farms operating in Illinois with a total peak production capacity of 107 megawatts. Mendota Hills, owned by Navitas Energy, sells its power to ComEd; Manlius is owned by and supplies the Bureau County School District; Crescent Ridge, owned by Babcock & Brown and Eurus, sells its energy to a private merchant; and Pike County’s farm is owned by the Illinois Rural Electric Co-op, which uses the power. One is under construction in The Daily Journal area – Benton Wind Farm in Indiana, just southeast of Sheldon, Ill.

By Mike Lyons

The Daily Journal

4 February 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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