DECATUR – A once hot topic in Macon County could find itself back on the table after a respite of a few years.
County Board Chairman Jay Dunn said Tuesday he recently received word that E.ON, the American unit of Germany’s largest utility company, intends to build around 115 wind turbines as early as next year on the west side of U.S. 51 near Maroa; years after E.ON and another energy company came to an agreement to build two wind farms in the county.
While he could not give a dollar amount, Dunn said the expected revenue to the county for the turbines would be substantial.
“Each one could bring in quite a bit of revenue and jobs,” he said.
It’s been a long time since the idea of the northern skyline being lined with wind turbines seemed imminent.
North Carolina-based Duke Energy and E.ON signed contracts in 2009 to build separate wind farms, while the Macon County Board unanimously approved changes to the county’s wind energy ordinance in 2010. The board specifically reduced the minimum distance a large energy conversion system that could be placed from nonparticipating property to 1.1 times the tower height measured from the center of the base to the property line. The board made the changes in hopes it would bring in additional income for farmers, tax revenue for governments and for good-paying jobs the wind farms could bring.
That extra money never blew into the county though.
Dunn said E.ON was the lone company he knew of that had plans to build turbines in the area now, and he had no explanation for why there has not been progress on the turbines. However, some past and more recent concerns suggest the continued recession and erection of turbines in neighboring counties as a reason for the inaction.
The turbines will not just rise overnight, though. They will be erected under special-use permits which require a public hearing process. Dunn told the county’s Environmental, Education, Health & Welfare Committee earlier this month he hoped to put a few thousand additional dollars in the upcoming fiscal year budget to cover zoning board hearings. A building permit is also required before the turbines can be built.
The placement of the wind turbines would have to be agreed upon by the company and the owners of the farm land. The energy generated by the turbines is not expected to go back into the county, but rather be sent to Chicago.
While Dunn said it is more than likely to see the turbines go up before the end of next year, it may not be a clear path toward construction, as previous efforts to build the turbines were met with concerns about noise pollution as well as whether the region produces enough wind to make the turbines feasible.
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