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UI suggests turbine could be moved

URBANA – As the costs of a University of Illinois wind turbine increase, south Urbana residents worried how the turbine would affect their property values brought more questions to a second public meeting on Monday night.

The UI offered an alternative to the primary concern raised at a first meeting in December; residents wondered if the 400-foot turbine’s proposed location, near the intersection of Old Church and Philo roads, could be moved farther west to minimize the effects of noise and shadows on homes to the east.

It can be moved west, said UI sustainability coordinator Morgan Johnston, but only by about 600 feet before it encroaches upon a 20,000-foot radius around Willard Airport runways for which airport officials have asked as a buffer zone. That would bring the location into compliance with the city of Urbana’s regulations on how close to residential property lines a wind turbine may be built.

The shift to the west was offered only as a possibility on Monday night. Project organizers and campus leaders would still need to consider the alternative location, which would decrease the amount of energy the turbine would produce.

Meanwhile, the UI is seeking another $700,000 to build the turbine – that would bring the budget to $5.2 million – after the project’s costs increased after negotiations with the contractor who would do the construction.

Johnston said it is not yet clear where the extra funding would come from, but project organizers have requested more money from a student committee in charge of revenue generated by a $14 per semester student fee.

The “student sustainability fee” generates $1 million per year for green projects on the UI campus – improving HVAC systems in campus buildings, maintaining a student farm and helping fund the construction of the ultra-green Business Instructional Facility, for example. Amy Allen, a member of Students for Environmental Concerns, a UI student group devoted to promoting sustainability, said allocating another $700,000 toward the wind turbine project would significantly cut into a year’s worth of projects.

The student committee in charge of allocating the money has already promised $500,000 for the turbine project, and Allen said some of the cost increases are unnecessary.

“It’s unfortunate that the university has issued this ultimatum,” Allen said.

Residents and government officials – like county board member Al Kurtz, who suggested the university pursue a partnership with a private company looking to locate a wind farm partially in Champaign County – wondered whether there is a better use for the $5.2 million.

Urbana Alderman Eric Jakobsson, Democrat-Ward 2, said he expects that green projects will carry a premium, but “it does seem to me that the renewable energy we do get should be cost effective.”

Johnston said there are more benefits to project than dollars alone would suggest: public engagement and research opportunities, for example.

“That’s not something that you can measure on an electronic spreadsheet,” Johnston said.