LACON – A Texas-based company is working to develop a potentially $320 million wind energy project in the southeast quadrant of Marshall County, which the developer describes as “blessed” with wind resources.
General plans for what’s being called the Grange Hall Wind Farm by Calpine Wind Holdings LLC were outlined Thursday night at a Marshall County Zoning Board of Appeals hearing.
The only issue at the hearing was Calpine’s request for a special use permit to erect a 328-foot meteorological tower southeast of Toluca to obtain data on wind speeds, directions and other variables. The ZBA unanimously recommended approval and passed the matter along to the Marshall County Board for final consideration next month.
But in a brief presentation and in response to questions, Calpine development director Derek Rieman summarized the project for which the data would provide a foundation.
“This is an early stage study that will gauge the feasibility of a wind farm in Bennington, Evans and Bell Plain townships,” he said.
Those mostly rural areas include the communities of Toluca, Wenona and La Rose, respectively.
“This could potentially be a $320 million capital investment in the community, which would equate to around $30 million of property taxes (over the 25-year life of the project),” Rieman estimated. “The largest beneficiary would be the Fieldcrest School District, which would recognize somewhere between $15 and $20 million of those funds.”
It would involve 50 to 75 wind turbines, depending on the generating capacity of the rapidly developing technology in the industry, Rieman said. The project website puts the range at 75 to 90 turbines.
If the plan comes to fruition, it would create 200 to 250 construction jobs and 10 to 15 long-term jobs in operation and maintenance, the website states. It also would generate more than $45 million in payments to landowners, according to the company.
It will probably be a year before Calpine is ready to come forward with an application for a defined project with specific turbine locations, Rieman said after the hearing. The company needs a calendar year of wind data because of seasonal variations, he added.
“The met tower data will help us design the project as far as where to place the turbines,” he said.
But the company has laid a lot of groundwork, Rieman pointed out. There have been discussions with 20 or 25 possible participating landowners, a letter to the weekly Lacon Home Journal/Toluca Herald and two dinners in Toluca to provide information about the company.
“Part of the driver (of the timeline) is the willingness of the community,” Rieman pointed out. “So there’s a large community relations effort that goes into a project like this.”
Calpine Wind Holdings is a subsidiary of Calpine Corp., which is described on its website as the nation’s largest supplier of electricity generated from natural gas. The renewable energy division started in 2015 has about 10 wind projects in development in four other states, but this is the first in Illinois, Rieman said.
“This is a new venture for Calpine itself, but they’ve hired people with a lot of experience in wind energy,” he added. “My boss and I have worked on projects in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.”
Calpine’s is one of two wind development initiatives currently taking place in that part of Marshall County. The other is a joint effort by Chicago-based Akuo Energy USA and Stewardship Energy LLC of Tiskilwa to resurrect a previously permitted project that had lain dormant for several years.
The county also hosts 60 turbines in its western section, and its attractiveness to developers is noted on Calpine’s website.
“Marshall County is blessed with one of the best wind resources in the state,” it says, “and is positioned to benefit from this incredible resource for decades to come.”