Residents and county officials in eastern Lee and western DeKalb counties are dusting off a five-year-old proposal from the Fortune 500 power company FPL Group to build what could turn out to be the biggest wind farm yet in northwest Illinois.
A spokesman for FPL Energy, a subsidiary of FPL Group, confirmed the company is talking with landowners and officials in the two counties about building a wind farm that could be as big as 250 megawatts, depending on the outcome of a power-grid study and the tenor of landowners.
FPL Energy is the world’s second-largest owner and operator of commercial wind farms; it has 56 in 16 states.
This would be its first project in Illinois, and the company also is exploring other locations in the state, although “we’re much farther along (in Lee and DeKalb counties) than anywhere else,” FPL spokesman Steve Stengel said.
The wind-energy giant was among the first wind-farm builders to secure permits in both counties in 2003, according to Lee County Zoning Officer Chris Henkel and Chief DeKalb Planning Officer Paul Miller, but decided not to build because FPL negotiators couldn’t come to terms with ComEd on a wholesale electricity purchasing agreement.
Since then, a host of regulatory changes have swept through Illinois as part of a massive electricity deregulation movement, including rules that make it easier to sell wholesale electricity into monopoly utilities.
During those five years, the deregulation, billions in grants and tax abatements and the rush to spin wind into electricity also lured three other wind farm developers into Lee County.
Without considering the FPL project, the county already has issued permits for 226.5 megawatts of wind turbines scheduled for construction this summer.
Planning for FPL’s new project is in its early stages, Stengel said, and the company has approached neither county board with a formal request for zoning changes, so there’s no way of knowing exactly how many turbines the company hopes to build or where just yet.
FPL is conducting a study to determine how much the existing ComEd grid can handle, where best to tie in and which landowners remain amenable to commercial wind turbines on their property; all of which could affect the final size of the project, Stengel said.
The FPL project would bring to four the number of large-scale projects in Lee County and be a full 20 percent bigger than the soon-to-be-built Big Sky Wind project near Sublette, now slated to be the county’s largest.
If built to the full 250 megawatt capacity, the Lee-DeKalb project would be FPL Energy’s sixth-largest development in the country, potentially generating $2.1 million per year in property taxes. Lee County currently taxes wind turbines at a rate of about $8,500 per megawatt.
DeKalb has no existing wind farms, Miller said.
This time around, part of FPL’s project likely will include high-voltage transmission lines, Stengel said.
At the end of 2007, FPL Energy reported to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission that it plans to build about 1,100 more megawatts of wind power by the end of this year.
By 2012, FPL hopes to add between 8,000 and 10,000 more megawatts of wind power, of which 700 are currently under construction.
By Sam Smith
18 March 2008
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