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Wind farm plans in works while ordinance is ironed out; EDF Renewable has 4,000 acres under lease, agent says

DeKALB – The DeKalb County Board might not have made up its mind yet about wind farms yet, but that’s not stopping EDF Renewable Energy from making plans in the county.

The alternative energy company, which has been making arrangements to lease farmland across the county, has testing towers up in two locations in South Grove Township, and operates two wind farms elsewhere in Illinois, also is setting up shop in the DeKalb County business community.

PJ Saliterman, a development director with Minnesota-based EDF, said the company plans on DeKalb County for the long haul.

“We did join the Chamber,” he said. “We’re very interested in raising awareness and what it could mean for the business community and the community at large.”

In July, the company made its first physical presence in the county by erecting two test towers in South Grove Township.

“They’re meteorological stations,” Saliterman said. “They’re gathering data to determine the feasibility of a wind farm in that part of the county.”

Saliterman said EDF probably will seek to extend the permits, as the testing is going well. The towers were approved in June because the permits were applied for before an 18-month moratorium was enacted, and they were erected in July.

Saliterman said that if everything goes according to plan, EDF plans to begin building a wind farm in 2020.

Alan Hughes, land agent for EDF in the DeKalb County area, said the company already has about 4,000 acres under lease in the county. The company is focusing on an area bordered by Base Line Road to the north, the Ogle County line to the west, Twombly Road to the south and Annie Glidden Road to the east.

“The reaction in the community, at least with the farmers I’ve spoken to, has been well-received,” Hughes said. He said the deal can be good for farmers because it’s a set price, not subject to crop price fluctuations.

But plans are just plans as renewable energy companies wait for the County Board to write ordinances governing wind and solar farms. In March, the board approved the moratorium on any new wind or solar farms in the county. The moratorium could be shorter than 18 months, if the county can write an ordinance governing the installations in the county.

The Planning and Zoning Committee has been working on an ordinance for solar farms since the the moratorium was approved, and at its most recent meeting, the committee voted to take the ordinance to a public hearing, after some language in the draft is changed. The date of the hearing has not yet been set.

DeKalb County is not EDFs first foray into Illinois.

“With respect to Illinois, there is a good regulatory environment for wind and solar,” Saliterman said. “Illinois was, and still is, a leader in the adoption of renewable energy. … We really like Illinois.”

The company has two other wind farms in Illinois, southwest of Kankakee.

So what’s the appeal of the county, where EDF is willing to wait out a moratorium for an ordinance?

Chicago is close by.

“The value of the power is correlated with where the demand for the power is located. DeKalb, not being too far from greater Chicago, is a good location for a wind farm because it delivers higher valued power,” Saliterman said.

The potential project in South Grove will generate new tax revenue and more than 10 jobs, Saliterman said, and more jobs during construction.

“Those will be local jobs, good-paying jobs,” he said.

The state’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for several years that wind turbine service technician would be the fastest-growing and among the highest-paying jobs in the country in the future. Recently, it was bumped to second-fastest-growing by solar photovoltaic installer.

Maybe the county is not moving fast enough, Saliterman said.

“We’re coming up on almost a year,” he said. “I think it’s a little unfortunate that if I was to go to the county and ask them to produce what they have done during that year, I’m not sure they would be able to produce anything. … It’s a little disappointing they have gone quite slowly, in my view.”

Some residents in the county are content with the pace of the planning committee. Brad Belanger of South Grove Township is a spokesman for what he calls a “group of concerned DeKalb County citizens” that opposes or wants to slow the pace of wind farm development in the county, although it is not an officially organized group.

He said the opposition, in part, comes from the damage the farms could do to county farmland. “We have a strong history of being good stewards of the land,” Belanger said. “The farmers are proud of their soil.”

Belanger said he’s concerned because he hasn’t seen any long-term studies of the effects wind farms have on the land, or health of people near them.

One specific concern Belanger has is that driving heavier trucks on county roads, bringing equipment or parts during construction and maintenance of the towers, will damage the roads.

“Is that a burden the taxpayer should bear?” he said.

He said writing the ordinance is a good first step. He also would like to wait and see what other counties do with their wind farm ordinances as far as answering questions. “It’s still new technology,” Belanger said.