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Forum on Poplar Grove wind farm brings out both sides

POPLAR GROVE – Meaghan Zeiner and her mother, Sharon McLoughlin, have committed 125 acres to Mainstream Renewable Energy’s proposed $400 million wind turbine development in northern Boone County.

Zeiner, 31, and her husband, Chris, live on the farm in LeRoy Township while McLoughlin lives in Iowa. The trio wanted to do something that would benefit their local community and beyond.

“My husband and I don’t consider ourselves tree-huggers, but environmentally minded,” Zeiner said. “We felt, if we could take a few gallons of oil out of production, a few counts of carbon out of the atmosphere, we would be making a difference.”

Zeiner was among the 150 people at Mainstream’s open house Wednesday at North Boone Fire Protection District 3. The meeting was coordinated with Global Wind Day to give the community a chance to learn about the plan to erect 100 wind turbines on 12,000 acres in the county’s northeast corner.

More than 55 landowners representing about 8,000 acres have given the company the rights to place wind turbines on their land, mostly in LeRoy and Manchester townships.

The commonly asked question: How would a wind project affect area wildlife?

“We’ll report into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources with studies regarding threatened or endangered species,” said John Martin, senior development project manager for Mainstream Renewable Power.

Matt Boss, development manager at Mainstream, said the project could create 1,000 temporary construction-related jobs and 50 permanent jobs, then generate $1.55 million in annual property taxes by 2015.

“That’s a plus,” North Boone School Board President Don Ward said. “Over the last two years we’ve cut $1.7 million out of our school budget, and a project like this has the potential of bringing money back. It’s just like a house, each of the wind towers has an equalized assessed value.”

Julie Van Laar, who attended with two of her five children, is concerned about the noise from the turbines.

“I have serious reservations about the project,” the Capron resident said. “It says that noise is at 45 decibels. We don’t have noise that loud in the country. Usually in rural areas, noise is around 25 decibels.”

The company expects to apply for the necessary permits next year and erect the turbines in 2013 at the earliest. Negotiations with landowners are ongoing to secure additional acreage for the wind farm.

Company officials began studying Boone County as a potential wind farm site in 2009 and discussed plans with county leaders in January. The company says the 200-megawatt project would supply enough electricity to meet the needs of more than 50,000 homes a year.