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Waiting on the wind; Meetings held Tuesday to discuss wind farm hold up

Element Power held two meetings in Macomb on Tuesday to explain why the McDonough County area does not have wind farms yet and still may not have them for a while longer.

A meeting was held in the morning for public officials and members of the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce and of the Macomb Area Economic Development Corporation. The evening meeting was held for landowners who signed contracts to allow the location of wind turbines on their properties.

Project manager Scott Koziar said there are 24,000 acres committed. He said the company needs a minimum of 16,400 acres to accommodate 116 turbines.

Koziar said the Cardinal Point Wind Energy Project has come a long way since Element Power took it over from EcoEnergy in 2010. But he said major tasks ahead include completion of federally-required environmental studies, selection of the type of turbines to be used, geotechnical testing of each turbine site, and advance sales of wind power.

The project manager said there are challenges on both the national and state levels. Koziar said there is a slow market due to the bad economy, there’s been flat or negative growth in electricity loads, and there’s now a record low in natural gas prices.

Dave Stoner, senior vice-president for Element Power’s projects east of the Mississippi River, said, “The energy market runs in cycles, with boom and bust years.”

Koziar said his company has enough faith in Cardinal Point that it has committed funds to cover increased, and in some cases non-refundable, fees for a place on the Midwest Independent System Operator power grid.

“We’ve paid our fees and I think some other companies may drop out and give us better position,” said Koziar. He said it’s imperative that the U.S. Congress renew the federal production tax credit that provides incentives for the first 10 years of a wind farm operation.

Kim Pierce, MAEDCO executive director, said her office has been in touch with local governments to get resolutions of support approved. “We may be coming back to you with more specific requests as bills become identified,” Stoner responded.

Koziar said a problem at the state level is that the Illinois Power Authority is currently interested in only approving power purchase agreements for one to five years. He said those who might buy wind power are more interested in 20-year agreements.

The project manager said his company may ask local landowners to join it in lobbying for a change in state policy. “Our industry needs to do a better job of breaking down details for legislators on why the 20-year contracts are needed,” said Koziar.

“We believe in this project,” Stoner said. “We’ve worked on it for three years already but a long timetable is typical for such projects. We’re extremely confident in wind power as an affordable energy source.”

Element Power is working on wind farms in 18 states and on solar energy in 17 states. Its national headquarters is in Portland, Ore. Stoner’s office is in Virginia, Koziar’s office is in Minneapolis, and the company maintains an office in Macomb.

The McDonough County project would provide more than 300 construction jobs and 12 to 16 permanent jobs handling the wind farms. Element Power estimates the finished project would make $1.8 million in local property tax payments, with more than $1 million going to the West Prairie School District.

In terms of power sales, Koziar said Ameren is the largest customer target. But he said several smaller buyers would be contacted and that his company is looking outside the Illinois market for customers.