September 3, 2010

Wind farm effort slowly gathers force

Cody Bozarth, Jacksonville Journal Courier, 3 September 2010

It has been well over a year since Morgan County passed an ordinance designed to manage wind farms, but a New York-based company is still a long way from bringing renewable energy to the area.

Erich Bachmeyer, vice president of development for Global Winds Harvest of Schenectady, N.Y., said the project is still in its early stages. It needs to incorporate more land into the project area in eastern Morgan County along Interstate 72.

He expects the system, known as the Grand Prairie Wind Farm, to be up to a 150-megawatt project. It would incorporate anywhere from 50 to 100 wind turbines depending on the output of the turbines used.

He said a few people who have been approached to lease land for turbines declined the offer but overall the response has been good.

“We’re making good progress. There’s been a good amount of interest and I think they’re falling into place,” Bachmeyer said. “Most of the people have been interested or have signed.”

He added that there’s still transmission issues the company is trying to address for several projects in the Midwest which should be finished within the next year. The company has to secure all the land it needs before it can go though the permitting process.

Global Winds has also completed a test of local weather conditions, but Bachmeyer said he was unsure when the analysis of that test would be finished.

Despite federal initiatives for renewable energy, finances are still an issue.

“It’s a difficult market with the financial meltdown,” Bachmeyer said. “These projects are hundreds of millions to finance and those large sums become more difficult to get financing for projects this size. But we’re optimistic going forward.”

As Global Winds Harvest looks for more property for a farm, the University of Illinois Extension has been working to educate property owners on the ins and outs of turbines, wind farms, and the related property issues.

Aaron Dufelmeier, Morgan and Scott County Extension director, said his office conducts a program called Wind Energy 101 to educate people on the myths, advantages, disadvantages and legal issues concerning wind farms.

He said he’s seen a wide variety of opinions on the matter.

“You get a mixed bag of reactions. Some are very green oriented people, or open to the idea of generating power though a turbine. It kind of comes down to personality,” Dufelmeier said. “You have some, you know, ‘you’re not going to take my land and put something on my land that’s going to throw ice or be noisy.’”

While noise is probably the number one concern he hears from people, he said the idea that turbine blades will throw ice is a popular misconception.

“I mean, wow, if that were reality that could be dangerous. But if those turbines are in operation it would take a really serious event in mother nature for that to happen.”

Like throwing ice, some have been concerned that turbines could throw a blade or that the blinking lights mounted on the turbines could cause seizures. Dufelmeier said these claims are typically regarded as myths.

Morgan County passed an ordinance to manage wind turbine siting in May 2009 after interest from wind energy companies, including Global Winds Harvest, motivated officials to start drafting an ordinance nine months earlier.

The ordinance requires a “secure financial assurance” from a prospective company for repair work if any roads are damaged during construction, operation or maintenance. It also requires the company have liability insurance and a thorough decommissioning plan.

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