Paper windmills in hand, a group of about 15 students appeared at Monday’s regular Urbana City Council meeting in support of a University wind turbine project that has been causing controversy in the community.
The project would install three wind turbines just outside of the city of Urbana on the school’s South Farms, as funded by a $2 million grant.
The students said they were frustrated with the project’s postponement, which has been on-and-off since 2005. Recently the project has faced opposition by community and council members who think the project is moving too quickly.
“This would be the largest renewable project ever made in Urbana, Champaign or the University,” said Suhail Barot, treasurer of Students for Environmental Concerns and graduate student. “I ask (city council) to keep that in mind as you decide on your actions in terms of how many generations of students have worked on this and what has gone into making this happen.”
Ward 6 Council Member Heather Stevenson disagrees.
“(Turbine project coordinators) haven’t talked to the residents and they are the number one concern when it comes to a project like this,” Stevenson said. “To construct a plan without consulting the residents is absolutely the wrong way to go about this.”
Along with that involvement is a call for further studies to be done, and the assurance that the project is in compliance with the Wind Energy Systems regulations in Urbana’s Zoning Ordinance. While studies were done by a contractor when the project began, the validity of their assessments is in question.
“There are serious deficiencies, in my opinion, that do not express environmental variations, specifically in regard to noise,” said Stephen Platt, associate professor of Engineering and Urbana resident. “The map … (includes) absolutely nothing I can tell regarding prevailing wind, humidity … that all have an effect on noise.”
Though Barot contended that discussion could be more elaborate after a bid was accepted and viability was assessed, Stevenson and other council and community members disagreed.
“It was kind of interesting to hear that (Barot) felt that it was appropriate to let out bids for construction and then receive and review before (project coordinators) knew what (they) were doing, and also, that would be too soon to have public review of the project,” said Ward 5 Council Member Dennis Roberts.
For Arne Pearlstein, engineering professor and Urbana resident, the issue is the proposed turbines’ proximity to residential areas. He said the problem could be resolved with slight relocation.
“We’re proposing to move the turbines closer together toward the southeast,” Pearlstein said. “The effect of that will be to reduce the radiated noise levels in all the affected subdivisions.”
The $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation will expire in May 2011, making the necessity for a decision more pressing. For now, much is uncertain, including the likelihood of more than one turbine being economically feasible.
“The project (as it was initially proposed) may not actually happen,” Barot said.
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