GALESBURG – Three Knox County Board members joined 42 other individuals on a tour of a wind farm Tuesday.
County Board members Dick Conklin, R-District 1; David Amor, D-District 2; and David Erickson, R-District 4, visited Orion Renewable Energy Group’s Camp Grove Wind Farm project in Stark and Marshall counties. Camp Grove includes 100 wind turbines generating 150 megawatts of power.
The board members went on the tour to learn more about how Orion’s wind farms operate, since the company has proposed to bring a wind farm to Knox County. The Knox County wind farm will include a maximum of 100 to 150 wind towers generating up to 300 megawatts of power, and construction will start in 2021 at the earliest.
The County Board members toured the interior of a wind turbine tower Tuesday and learned more about the turbines’ construction and decommissioning process. They also listened to presentations by both former Stark County Board member Michael Bigger and a landowner who allowed Orion to construct a wind turbine on his farm property.
“It was hosted by the company so (Orion) was probably casting it in its most positive light, but everything I heard was encouraging,” Amor said.
The tour gave the board members the opportunity to learn some topics residents have brought up about wind and solar farms at past County Board meetings, including what happens to farmland after projects are decommissioned. Michael Cressner, project development manager for Orton, said “no utility scale wind farm has been decommissioned in the Midwest” to date, but if a project is decommissioned, the topsoil would be ripped for compaction “allowing for full agricultural use after decommissioning of the wind farm facilities.”
Some residents also have expressed concern in the past about possible damage to drainage tiles by solar panels. On the tour, the attendees learned that if there is any damage to tiles caused by a wind farm turbine, the wind farm will incur the cost of repairing the damage.
“Orion does not have any time or monetary restrictions on how far out after construction repairs to tile damage as a result of a project’s construction repairs can occur,” Cressner said.
Conklin said he learned “a bunch” from the trip, including that Orion contracts with landowners to deliver power for 20 years but the actual life span of the technology is roughly 25 years. He added, though, that he is against any renewable energy projects that receive tax subsidies from the government, as Orion hopes to receive per the Future Energy Jobs Act. Conklin could not recall if the County Board ever approved a company to come to the county from another industry that received a tax subsidy.
“I would not oppose it (if it didn’t have a tax subsidy) because it generates income for the farmer and the county,” Conklin said. “I might even be in favor of it, other than the aesthetics. I can’t stand driving by wind farms.”
Since Camp Grove started operations in 2007, the project has generated more than $10 million in property taxes and $10 million in payments to local landowners, according to Orion’s website. The community’s high school students have received $80,000 in college scholarship funding from the project, according to the site.
Amor said he would like to tour other wind farms created by other companies so the county would be able to make an informed decision if Orion moved forward with its project or other companies wanted to bring other wind farms to the county.
“I hope if they come to us that it’s something we would be able to do our due diligence on and support,” Amor said.
Erickson did not want to comment on the wind farm tour other than he went on the tour to gather information.
“I think elected officials who may eventually have to act on a request from any company, in this case Orion, have to be very careful about what they do and what they participate in so they remain fully objective as issues come before them,” Erickson said. “I think wind energy projects all have to be evaluated on their own merits. If I were in a position to vote on them, I’d keep an open mind on them.”