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Construction expected this summer for wind farm

KEMPTON – Construction of a proposed 199-turbine wind farm encompassing portions of Ford, Iroquois and Kankakee counties is expected to begin by early August, the project’s developer said.

The long-delayed K4 Wind Farm project is being co-developed by Cincinnati-based Vision Energy and Oakland, Calif.-based Orion Energy Group, according to Vision Energy President Turner Hunt. Following construction, the wind farm will be sold to EDF Renewable Energy, headquartered in San Diego, Hunt said.

The wind farm has been scaled down in size and scope since special-use permits were first approved in 2008. Vision Energy was initially planning a 307-turbine wind farm covering portions of northern Ford County, western Iroquois County, eastern Livingston County and southern Kankakee County, with a total generating capacity of around 400 megawatts. And later, Vision Energy said it planned to increase the project to 750 megawatts.

But today, Livingston County is no longer a participant, and the project has been reduced to 199 turbines with a generating capacity of about 340 megawatts, Hunt said.

Special-use permits for the project were extended in 2011 for another three years, through Nov. 10, 2014.

Construction of Phase I, which includes 61 turbines in Kankakee County and 42 in Iroquois County – is expected to start by early August, Hunt said.

Hunt said there is no “firm” timeline for the start of construction for Phase II of the project, which includes 96 turbines in the Kempton area in Rogers Township in Ford County. If Phase II is not begun by the expiration of the special-use permit, “one of two things will happen,” Hunt said.

“We will either ask for a one-year extension, or construction will have started (by Nov. 10),” Hunt said.

Both phases are being sold to EDF, which will be the long-term owner and operator of the wind farm, Hunt said.

The wind farm will use 1.7-megwatt GE turbines. It will be built by Mortenson Inc., a Minneapolis company that has built 135 wind farms.

The wind farm will be financed by EDF and reflect an investment of “several hundred million dollars,” said Hunt, who could not give a more precise figure.

The delay in building the wind farm was caused by the economic downturn in 2008, along with issues raised by the Department of Defense during K4’s application process with the Federal Aviation Administration, Hunt said.

Hunt said the Department of Defense has a “big radar facility” that tracks aircraft in Joliet, about 30 miles north of the proposed wind farm.

“Back in 2009 and for a period of 21/2 years, almost to 2012, they claimed that they could not distinguish a moving wind turbine blade from a threat, like a missile,” Hunt said. “The basic claim was that we could potentially be a hazard to national security, that we were impeding the ability of their radar to see things.

“It wasn’t just our wind farm; there were 20 or so wind farms across the country that were all caught up with this same issue. But in 2012, they basically dropped their objection. They simply said, ‘We don’t object any more,’ and we went on with the normal FAA process.”