DECATUR – Massive wind turbines towering over northwestern Macon County make an impressive sight on the prairie horizon, but passersby might wonder why they’ve been sitting motionless for months.
That will change soon.
Construction on all 139 turbines of Radford’s Run Wind Farm began in May and wrapped up Sept. 28. They can begin rotating after some testing, said Matthew Tulis, communication manager at E.ON, the company that will operate the wind farm.
“We expect all the turbines to be up and running by the end of the year,” he said. “We haven’t seen any delays or unforeseen changes, and the installation of the turbines was completed ahead of schedule.”
The news isn’t welcomed by some neighbors of the wind farm, which is north of Warrensburg and west of Maroa.
“I’m concerned I won’t be able to sleep,” said Allan Hans, who can see several of the 400-foot-tall turbines jutting into the skyline from his bedroom window.
Hans said he struggles with sleep apnea and familial tremors. Some reports suggest that turbines can cause sleep disruptions, and he said he is worried about the health effects of living within a mile of seven turbines.
Hans is among three dozen landowners who filed a lawsuit last year in an attempt to stop the project. The case is pending in Macon County Circuit Court, but progress on the wind farm has continued at full speed.
The turbines were installed in a plot that stretches 24,000 acres, with the northwestern edge near the intersections of the Macon, DeWitt and Logan county borders.
The base of each turbine is roughly 15 feet in diameter and 400 feet tall, with three curved blades that measure 160 feet in length. They are unfenced and accessible by a small gravel road.
When the machines start turning, it will be the culmination of a project that’s been discussed publicly since 2008.
The county board in 2013 approved a special permit to allow construction of a 5-acre electric substation that served as the starting point for the project, formerly known as the Twin Forks Wind Farm. Final plans were approved in 2015.
Construction on the turbines began May 22. Upwards of 300 workers spent the summer turning the rural area into a miles-wide construction zone.
The turbines will produce about 300 megawatts per hour when running under normal wind conditions, Tulis said. That’s enough to power roughly 90,000 homes.
Energy generated by the wind farm will go into the PJM Interconnection, a massive grid spread throughout 13 states in the Midwest and East.
Landowners near the wind farm objected to the project from the start. Dozens of opponents, as well as supporters, filled county committee meetings in the summer of 2015 to express their concerns. They worried about noise and “flicker effect” created by the turbines, the environmental effect on livestock and birds and a potential decline in their property values.
Several also questioned the timing of the county’s legislative process, saying they weren’t given proper notice of a public hearing or timely access to informational materials about the project.
That claim lies at the heart of the lawsuit filed by 36 landowners in December 2015.
Macon County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Little denied a motion June 27 to grant summary judgment, or make an immediate decision, in the landowners’ favor. He said there were still factual issues in the case that needed to be resolved.
Since then, attorneys have been taking depositions from the dozens of people involved in the case, said Richard Porter, a Rockford-based attorney representing the landowners.
The case could head to trial as early as next May, Porter said.
“We’re still on course for a trial, and we’re going to continue to pursue it,” Porter said.
Among the plaintiffs is Alan Ruwe, who said he is already concerned about the value of the property that he has called home for 42 years, with 12 turbines now within a mile of it.
Like Hans, Ruwe said he is worried about negative health effects, especially for his wife. He cited reports that say shadow flickers and ultrasound emissions from the turbines can cause health problems.
He said he and his wife will take a “wait and see approach” as the turbines near full operation, but the words and testimonies he has heard from others who live near turbines gives him concern.
“If we accept their testimony, we would have to move,” Ruwe said.
Over the next three decades, the wind farm is expected to generate $46 million in new property tax revenue, according to the original application to the county.
That money won’t start coming in until 2019. Because of the timing of the construction, the wind farm won’t be assessed for property tax purposes until next year, said Joshua Tanner, chief county assessment officer.
School districts would get the biggest increase in property tax revenue, but they would also see cuts to their state aid, making for a smaller net gain.
For instance, Maroa-Forsyth School District would receive an additional $17.1 million in property taxes over the 30-year life of the project, according to a study that was part of the wind farm application. After state aid cuts, the gain for the district would be $4.4 million.
Similarly, Warrensburg-Latham School District would receive $14.6 million more in property taxes but a net revenue increase of $4.1 million, the study said.
Clinton and Mount Pulaski school districts would receive $305,000 and $440,000 in net revenue, respectively.
The benefits to county and township governments are more straightforward. Before construction was complete, Macon County had already collected about $3 million from fees associated with special permits for the turbines. Part of that money went toward purchasing new election equipment in the Macon County Clerk’s Office.
Over the course of the project, Macon County is expected to receive an additional $6.1 million in property tax revenue. The Austin, Maroa, Illini and Hickory Point townships would split the remaining $7.8 million.
In the first year, Macon County would collect $95,000 to $100,000, board Chairman Jay Dunn said. That number would decrease each subsequent year of the wind farm’s operation.
Still, any extra cash is welcome news for the county, which asked departments to cut their budgets by 6.2 percent this year to help make up a nearly million-dollar revenue shortfall.
“It will definitely help us,” Dunn said.
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