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Wind farm on schedule in Champaign, Vermilion counties

ROYAL – Construction of a 214-megawatt wind farm in Vermilion and Champaign counties is on schedule and should be completed later this year, according to an official with Invenergy LLC, a Chicago-based energy company.

Wind towers and some turbine blades already have been installed on the Vermilion County portion of the project, said Kevin Parzyck, vice president of development for Invenergy. And approximately 225 construction workers are at the site, according to the company.

“The construction of the California Ridge wind project is progressing on schedule, and we look forward to the official start of commercial operations later this year,” Parzyck said in an emailed statement. “Our project construction logistics involve an east-to-west progression, with turbines erected first in Vermilion County, and progressing west into Champaign County. The erection process involves the delivery and assembly of numerous turbine components, and ultimately concludes with the testing and commissioning of each unit.”

Invenergy’s wind farm is the first in both Vermilion and Champaign counties. Of 134 wind turbines to be erected, 104 will be in Vermilion County.

“It’s definitely a big change for Pilot Township. It may be the biggest thing to happen in Pilot Township since it was started,” said Mike Marron, the Pilot Township supervisor who also is a member of the Vermilion County Board.

The only problem reported so far, Marron said, were “some minor drainage issues” in the spring.

Still, the wind farm is a divisive issue in the township. It also was a contentious issue in Champaign County during zoning hearings last year.

“There are some people out here who absolutely hate the fact that this is happening,” Marron said. “It’s still a very divisive subject out here.

“You’ve got people that just absolutely love the wind farm, they’re glad that it’s here, think that they’re going to see a great deal of economic benefit from it and there’s another group that thinks it’s the worst thing we’ve ever done. They’re mad. They look out their window and see the turbines and they’re mad about it.”

Marron estimated there’s “about a 50-50 split” between the wind farm’s supporters and opponents.

“Maybe the split isn’t that bad, but I think you can definitely say the community is split on it,” he said. “In situations like these, I suppose the opponents are more vocal than the others.”

There are significant benefits to the project, Marron said. Thirty-seven miles of roads are being improved in Pilot Township, and several taxing districts in both counties will see more revenue.

“We’re going to see our (equalized assessed valuation) go up because of the towers and we’ll see a tax benefit because of that, and we’ll get new roads out of it. Of course that also means with new roads that there’s an added expense to maintain those roads as well,” Marron said. “But in terms of getting better roads and a better tax base, it should be a plus for the township.”

During hearings last fall, Invenergy said the project would yield approximately $548,000 in property taxes in its first year, about $300,000 of which would go to local school districts.

John Hall, Champaign County’s director of planning and zoning, said the county already has received about $136,000 in permit and license fees from the project.

That went right into the county’s general corporate fund, he said.

Hall said he expects construction to start in August or September on the 30 turbines to be built in Champaign County.

“From everything I know, everything is still on schedule,” he said.

“People in the area may see turbines spinning and idle over the next few months during the erection and commissioning efforts, with full commercial operation slated for the fall,” Parzyck said. “We look forward to working closely with our host communities in Champaign and Vermilion counties, and contributing to the area’s long-term economic development through job creation and investment. We’re very pleased to be able to generate a new supply of clean, renewable energy in our home state.”

All of the power produced by the California Ridge project will be supplied to the Tennessee Valley Authority under a long-term power purchase agreement signed earlier this year. California Ridge, which Invenergy says will produce enough energy to power 65,000 homes, will be the fourth-largest wind farm in Illinois when completed, according to the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University.

As of April 2012, according to the center, Illinois ranks fourth in wind-power generating capacity and is 14th in potential capacity.

Champaign County could see construction of another wind farm within the next few years, Hall said. Earlier this spring a company began making preliminary inquiries about building a wind project in northwestern Champaign County along Illinois 47.