GIBSON CITY – About a decade since it was initially proposed, ground has yet to be broken on the proposed Ford Ridge Wind Farm near Sibley.
Yet despite the slow development, the company behind the project is hopeful to begin construction soon, with the wind farm being fully operational in just a few years.
Speaking at this month’s meeting of the Gibson Area Chamber of Commerce at The Sand Trap in Gibson City, John J. Stone, project manager for Apex Clean Energy, said that his company is looking to apply for another special-use permit for the proposed wind farm sometime this year.
“We currently have a permit for a 120-megawatt project that is valid and that we’ve had for a number of years, but we are in the process of expanding and looking to apply for another permit,” Stone said. “As some of you know, there is a is a moratorium that the county’s put on issuing new permits. That was enacted in November and will be coming up to expire in March. That’s when we’re hoping to file for a new permit.”
In October, the Ford County Board enacted a 120-day moratorium on issuing any additional permits for wind farm applications. Problems with the Kelly Creek Wind Farm near Kempton, including television reception interference and road grading problems, caused board members to impose a temporary stoppage until those problems could be addressed.
Stone said that Apex Clean Energy is the third company developing the Ford Ridge project. Initially operated by Orion Wind Energy, BP took control of the project in 2010 but divested from its wind energy holdings in 2014. At that time, Apex took over BP’s share.
Initially slated to be 150 to 200 turbines near Sibley, Stone said the company is looking to expand the scope and size of the project, now at an estimated 250 to 300 turbines.
“Our initial project area was going to be right around Sibley and Gibson City, but given that the wind resource is so great here, we had some conversations and decided to branch out and see if there was any interest further west toward the county border, and we’re going east as well,” Stone said.
Stone said his company, which already operates a wind farm near Hoopeston, values operating its wind farms.
“Across the country we really value not only harvesting a great renewable resource like you have up here,” Stone said. “We really feel like it’s a great economic opportunity not just for the landowners who choose to sign with us but with the county and community at-large.
In addition to producing electrical power, the project also means more jobs to the area.
“Over the course of the project, we were kind of estimating $60 million would come in to the county for use in schools,” Stone said. “During the construction period there will be 200 to 400 construction jobs, and once the project is finalized and operational, there will be 10 full-time positions doing operations and things like that.”
In response to an audience question about how much power each turbine produces, Stone said the wind turbines’ capacity has improved in the past decade.
“Even five years ago, they are capped off that one turbine could produce 1 to 1 1/2 megawatts of power,” Stone said. “Now, we don’t really see ourselves using anything less than a 2- to 2.5-megawatt turbine. It’s nice that you need less of them now to operate a very substantial project.”
Stone offered a solid timeline for when he hopes to get the project off the ground.
“It’s depending on the permitting process,” Stone said. “Best case scenario is we’d like to begin construction as early as 2019, and then if we do get pushed back it could begin in late 2019 with operations starting in 2020.”