A massive wind farm power generating project that could involve an investment of more than $600 million was unveiled Wednesday for rural Christian and Montgomery counties.
The Prairie Fork Wind Farm is being built by Virginia-based power company Dominion, which already runs the Kincaid coal-fired power station in Christian County. Energy from the wind farm, scheduled to be built in 2010 and running by 2011, will be funneled to Kincaid.
Prairie Fork will sprawl across 25,000 acres of the two counties where they meet in the Harvel, Raymond and Morrisonville area. It could generate enough power to light 75,000 homes.
Dominion says tax revenues from the project will be worth $1 million a year to Christian and Montgomery counties. Landowners who agree to have a turbine on their property will be paid annual fees up to $4,000 per turbine, depending on how much power the farm actually produces.
Construction of the project will generate hundreds of jobs, and the farm will employ up to 20 people full time to run and maintain it.
Dominion says Prairie Fork is expected to have between 150 and 200 turbines. These will each stand about 350 feet high, with blades measuring another 100 feet, giving a total height from the tip of an upright blade to the ground of 450 feet.
Scot C. Hathaway, Dominion’s vice president for business development, announced the project on the steps of the Taylorville courthouse as politicians and economic development officials from the two counties watched. Speaking while a chilly breeze ruffled his hair, Hathaway said: “When coupled with other energy sources, such as our Kincaid Power Station, wind power can provide an important piece of the energy puzzle.
“The wind is an inexhaustible renewable resource to produce clean, green energy.”
Dominion, surprisingly, said the whole project was triggered last year when a worker at Kincaid called the company’s bosses and said windy Central Illinois might be a good spot for a wind farm. The company, which has a $39 billion energy network with 5 million customers across 11 states, has partnerships in two other wind farms in Indiana and West Virginia. Prairie Fork would punch up its renewable generation capacity to 1,300 megawatts, enough to power 325,000 homes.
But much work lies ahead. The company’s preliminary wind speed tests have looked good, but it must conduct more detailed studies – beginning in the next few months – to determine the location and numbers of turbines for the farm. The placement of the test towers, and then the installation of the actual turbines, will involve getting rural landowners’ permission.
Open house public meetings have been set for May 5 in Taylorville and May 6 in Farmersville.
“We expect a lot of support for Prairie Fork Wind Farm,” added Hathaway. “It’s a good local development engine. It’s environmentally friendly … and it works to the benefit of landowners. We’re excited about this.”
Local officials pledged to do all they could to support the project. Taylorville Mayor Frank Mathon, Christian County Board Chairman John Curtin and Montgomery County Board Chairman Mike Plunkett, all spoke in favor of the project.
“We kind of feel like the winds of economic development are blowing towards Christian County this morning,” Curtin said.
Farmers were more cautious, but willing to talk. David Wayman farms 900 acres stretching from Sangchris Lake to Palmer and would be happy to sit down with Dominion.
“We’d have to put a price to it but, well, if the price is right …” he said, cradling his 15-month-old daughter, Laura. “It is kind of interesting.”
R.D. Elder is president of the Christian County Farm Bureau and was taken by surprise by news of the wind farm. but he doesn’t see why wind turbines and farming can’t co-exist.
“I’ve farmed around oil wells all my life up in the northern end of the county,” said Elder, 44. “And you know, every time that oil well pump makes a stroke, its life is getting shorter, but the wind always blows around here.”
By Tony Reid
10 April 2008
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