LINCOLN – The Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals conducted a hearing on the 20th in Mount Pulaski at the Christian Church Family Life Center. A sizeable crowd of people gathered in the church to learn about and comment on the proposed request for a Conditional Use permit for Relight and Meridian LLC to build a series of wind towers in Logan County.
Relight is a wind farm corporation with headquarters in Italy. Relight U.S., the subsidiary working on this project, is wholly owned by Relight.
The wind farm would be located south and west of Mount Pulaski, with towers stretching into Elkhart and Broadwell. The wind farm would consist of 81 wind turbines, collector lines, sub-stations, transmissions lines, access roads, meteorological towers and related appurtenances. A new substation would need to be built in Mount Pulaski on 400th Street as part of the project. In total, the project would encompass 8,100 acres across the county.
Originally, the plan called for 140 turbines. Now the plan is down to 81 turbines. The towers will be 98 meters high, or a little over 300 feet. With the blades attached, the tip of the blade would reach 491 feet high.
The number of turbines was reduced over time due to the need to work around areas where landowners did not want a turbine built, or it could not meet construction requirements. One of these requirements is that a tower has to be built 600 feet away from a road and 1,000 feet from any residence.
Prior to the ZBA hearing, the Lincoln/Logan County Regional Planning Commission approved of the proposal, and recommends to the ZBA that they approve of it as well.
Robert Paladino was present at the hearing on behalf of Relight. Relight is based in Italy, and they are the developers behind the Meridien Wind Farm. The project has been in development for about five years, according to Paladino. This would be the first wind project built by Relight in the United States, and there are plans in the works for Mason County as well.
According to Paladino’s presentation, a feasibility study was conducted between June of 2009 and May of 2010. Environmental studies were done between June of 2010 and July of 2011. Land acquisition began in June of 2010 and October of this year. Currently, the project is in the authorization and permitting phase. Relight hopes to begin construction in the second quarter of 2015.
Paladino said that one of the concerns they wanted to address at the hearing was the “quarter-mile bubble” that adds to the affected land area. This means that Relight is trying to reach out to those people who may not have a tower on their land, but will still be potentially affected by the wind farm. This area in total would measure at 16,300 acres (including the aforementioned 8,100 acres). Paladino said they estimate about 150 people who needed to contacted about the bubble.
Several people asked during the hearing why they had not been contacted before receiving a certified letter in the mail about the hearing. Chairman Doug Thompson said that is one of the reasons why the ZBA holds hearings, which is to inform people who may not already know what zoning matters are being discussed.
According to the presentation, wind energy is the transformation of kinetic force into mechanical power. Due to technological advances, wind power is the fastest growing alternative energy source. Wind power is also pollution free and flexible enough to be used to power both residential needs and the needs of cities.
Paladino also said that Meridien will receive a federal tax credit for their operation if they are up and running by December of 2015. The tax credit will only apply to those towers that are completed by that deadline. Paladino also said there is a chance that the Federal government will extend that deadline, but it is still unknown as to whether or not they will.
“Often times, those tax credits can amount to as much as forty percent of the revenue,” said Paladino.
Paladino said the area was selected because of the wind conditions in this part of the state.
“This will produce 760 million kilo-watt hours a year. This is the equivalent of 70,000 households,” said Paladino. Paladino explained that the nacelle that gathers the power generated by the turbine will generate over 4,000 volts. This voltage will then be transferred to the base of the transformer at the bottom of the tower, where it is pushed to 34,000 volts. Finally, all of the tower voltage is transferred to the substation and pushed to 345,000 volts, and it will be connected to the power grid in that spot.
“Noise is a key issue within the project area,” said Paladino.
Paladino said that the company will use noise reduction technology to help ensure noise problems are kept to a minimum. Rob O’Neill, a sound engineer with Epsilon Associates, helped to explain how the noise will be reduced via software built into the towers.
O’Neill said that the wind farm has to comply with local and state level sound emission regulations. Studies were done on the machinery that would be part of the towers. The findings for these studies indicated that the towers would fall under the recommended decibel levels during both the day and the night. However, some of the towers would be fitted with software to adjust the blade angles as the wind increases, which will decrease noise levels.
Doug Thompson asked which turbines will need to be programmed with the extra software. O’Neill said he could not provide the specifics on location, but their model for study was run on a worst-case scenario.
When asked by several people in attendance how the study model was run, O’Neill answered, “We modeled every wind turbine running simultaneously with every residence in the area.” This means they measured what the sound level would be at every residence within project area.
Multiple people asked how loud the towers would be, and if they could be heard from a thousand feet away. O’Neill said the noise generated by the turbines would still be heard, and would register at a level lower than a normal speaking voice. Several guests also asked if monitoring of the noise levels will continue after construction. Paladino said they will continue to monitor the turbines that need software for noise reduction.
Corey Leonard asked about whom to address if they have a complaint about noise after the towers are built. Paladino said a plant manager will be hired after the project is finished. Said manager will live in the area, and Paladino added that he could be contacted with complaints as well.
Noise complaints are also handled by the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
Leonard asked if the ZBA had contacted the Control Board. Thompson said they have not, as it has not seemed necessary so far.
Another issue that has come up is need for aviation lighting. Paladino said that right now, the plan is for 61 of the turbines to be fitted with FAA-provided aviation lights, but there could be more.
Another issue is the potential impact on wildlife and wetlands nearby. According to studies done in 2010 and 2011 that have been reviewed by wildlife service agencies, there should not be any threat to endangered species or the wetlands.
According to guidelines from the American Wind Association, wind towers are built at a minimum of one thousand feet from residences. Paladino said they will be using a wind turbine construction company called Mortinson to construct the wind farm. Mortinson has constructed over eleven hundred wind turbines in the United States. The towers themselves would be supplied by General Electric, who has over 22,000 towers worldwide.
Paladino reiterated multiple times that the drainage tile in the area was brought up as a concern. As a result, they will conduct studies to find these areas and make repairs as necessary.
“If we break it, we’ll fix it. And if it’s broken, we’ll probably fix it. If we find it broken, we’ll fix it,” said Paladino. Multiple people asked what method would be used to fix any drainage tiles. Paladino said he was not sure of the exact method. Paladino did add that Relight will fix drainage tiles for anyone affected by the construction, even if they have not signed a lease. Paladino also said they will hire locally for said positions. One audience member asked about wells, and Paladino said they will fix wells, too.
“We’ll be applying some very aggressive construction,” said Paladino. “This is an intrusive project, there’s no avoiding it.”
Paladino said he has also met with engineers in Broadwell, Elkhart and Mount Pulaski. Paladino said Relight is willing to provide the funding to assist the three townships to review the engineering plans, and to allow them to hire a construction superintendent to oversee construction.
Paladino also said that some of the roads in the area will be paved by Relight as part of the construction process in order to facilitate faster transportation of parts.
Should construction begin on schedule, area leveling would begin in April of 2015. Turbines would start to arrive in July, electrical infrastructure would be constructed starting in June, and operation would begin in December. According to the presentation, no hazardous waste would be used, and construction waste would be disposed of by Relight.
Brett Farmer asked about a decommissioning plan.
Paladino said there is a requirement for deconstruction to be kept in place in case the business goes under. Paladino also said that such a decision will likely not happen for twenty years, and the towers may still be used in an upgraded manner at that time.
Judy Graff asked about any potential issues with aerial application of pesticides on crops. Paladino said there has been one landowner that has come forward with the same concern. Paladino said they are looking into accommodations for such an issue, which would involve turning down the turbine speed during said applications.
Multiple audience members claimed that Relight was inept, citing a lack of communication and late payments for leases that were signed when land acquisition began. Paladino apologized for past mistakes on Relight’s part, and said that Relight has had trouble in locating the correct landowners in the area.
“You’re not the easiest people to narrow down,” said Paladino, and added that land parcels in the area are not easily defined, nor are they always listed as being under the correct names.
Leslie Hilt, the highway commissioner for Mount Pulaski, said that the noise will not affect him, as he is not part of the project area. However, Hilt said he is worried about the farmers in the area who will have to deal with trenching during the crop-planting season. Paladino said that Relight will be working with each farmer individually to ensure that minimal interruption is made to planting crops.
The number of turbines was also reduced to provide what Paladino referred to as a “minimal impact” on the scenic nature of the area. Several people in the audience disagreed, with some saying they do not want to look out their window only to see wind turbines.
Several people asked how their property values would be affected, with some citing studies done in other areas with wind farms that state such values will decrease. One audience member asked if there is anything Relight will do if property values go down. Paladino said there is no legal obligation for Relight to do anything in such a situation.
In total, this is almost a $400 million project for Relight. “All of the financing for this is American,” said Paladino.
The primary revenue for the county would come in the form of one-time building fees.
The wind farm would also be susceptible to property taxes the same as any other property, and taxes would be distributed in the same manner, of which the county sees a portion, schools and townships and other taxing bodies that are within a jurisdiction of each given turbine site. By ordinance, the county assessment for wind turbines for commercial production is set by mega-watt. The property taxes for Meridien Wind Farm are currently being estimated to amount to $370,000 a year.
Due to time constraints, the ZBA adjourned the hearing. A second hearing will be held on Thursday, December 4th at 7:30 in the same location, the Mount Pulaski Church Fellowship Center.
Members of the ZBA present were Doug Thompson, chairman; Dean Toohey; Rick Sheley; Judy Graff and Brett Farmer. Logan County Zoning Officer Will D’Andrea was also present.
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