LACON – An effort to resurrect a wind farm project that has lain dormant for several years has surfaced in the southeast corner of Marshall County.
Minonk Stewardship Wind LLC narrowly won tentative approval from the Marshall County Zoning Board of Appeals last week for a preliminary step toward constructing up to 40 wind turbines on farmland in Bennington Township southeast of Toluca.
The ZBA voted 3-2 Thursday to recommend granting a special use permit for a new 198-foot meteorological tower just west of Interstate 39 and about three miles north of the Woodford County line. The County Board will make a final decision on that at its July 14 meeting.
But judging from the ZBA’s close vote and the discussion during that night’s public hearing and elsewhere, the project may encounter some headwinds as it moves forward toward turbine construction projected for 2019-20.
“I think the people out in that area … their attitudes are changing on whether they want them or not,” County Board Chairman Gary Kroeschen, who is from Toluca, observed at a recent board meeting.
The project is a joint venture of Chicago-based Akuo Energy USA and Stewardship Energy LLC of Tiskilwa. The officers include Thomas Cote of Chicago and Matthew Kaufman of Tiskilwa, and the property where the tower would be placed is owned by Brian and Yvonne Folkerts.
The firm erected a 267-foot meteorological tower not quite two miles away in 2010 and obtained special use and construction permits for 16 turbines in 2012. But time limits and extensions allowed under the county ordinance expired without any turbine construction taking place.
“That permit’s gone. They’re starting over,” zoning administrator Patrick Sloan told the County Board recently.
The ZBA hearing included no substantive discussion of the earlier failure to follow through. But Akuo representative Nick Bauer, who was not with the company at that time, said afterwards that it apparently involved problems in reaching an agreement with Ameren Illinois as well as financing issues and general business conditions.
A new state law requiring utilities to use more sustainable sources has been a factor in reviving the project, he said. Developers now envision a substantially larger installation of 30 to 40 turbines, though the final number will be determined through ongoing analysis by Ameren, he told the ZBA.
“There’s a lot of studies to be done yet, so we don’t know exactly how many they would let us have,” Bauer said. “Once we have all the studies done by the utility, everything else should be pretty well lined up.”
Bauer was asked why a second tower was needed when one has already been in place. He indicated that wind conditions could vary over that distance, and the company needed more data to determine production capacity and help secure financing.
“Even a small difference, like a tenth of a mile, can have a big impact (on wind levels),” he said.
Brothers Alan and Chris Renken were among a handful of area residents who attended the hearing, and they reiterated opposition that they had previously stated to the zoning office by phone. Some comments that night focused more on wind turbines than the tower, and senior ZBA member Ken McKee reminded people those objections could be voiced at a future hearing if the project moves forward to that point.
“If (the developers) wanted to put a collection field in, they’d have to come back and get another permit,” McKee pointed out.
Joining Allen Toepper in voting no was Rebecca Donna, who had vocally opposed the earlier version of the project as a neighboring resident before she was on the ZBA. She acknowledged that the hearing dealt only with the new tower, but her comments suggested that her vote was based at least partly on the assumption that wind turbines would follow.
“If (they’re) not going to be built, why spend the money?” she asked.
McKee was joined in yes votes by Dennis Bogner and Chairman Kyle Schumacher. Schumacher initially said he wanted to “stay neutral,” but then finally broke a 2-2 tie after emphasizing that the panel’s finding of facts had found the meteorological towner unlikely to cause any adverse effects.
“I’m solely basing my vote on the finding of facts,” he said.
If the wind farm eventually gets developed, it would be the second in Marshall County. About 60 turbines are located in the western part of the county in the 100-turbine Camp Grove Wind Farm, which straddles the Stark County line.
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