The Goose Creek Wind Project, which would erect up to 120 turbines in northern Piatt County and provide millions to area school districts, is being proposed by Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy.
What is being considered is a project of up to 200 megawatts that Apex hopes to have online by the end of 2021, providing an estimated $65 million in tax revenue to county governments over 30 years, about $40 million of which would go to the Blue Ridge, DeLand-Weldon and Monticello school districts.
Apex officials say it would also generate 200 full-time jobs during construction, with another 15 to 20 ongoing ones after construction is complete.
While still in the early planning stages, “most of the development would be in the northern portion of the project area, and would be in Goose Creek, Sangamon and Blue Ridge Townships, for the most part,” said Alan Moore, a development manager for Apex.
“We’re still early in the process, so we don’t have by any means the ground signed,” he added.
“We’re in the process of talking to landowners and farmers, talking through their concerns and issues, and in many cases interest and excitement about the project, as well as working at the county level to make sure we are keeping the county apprised where we are in development, and learning about their concerns and interests, and who their players are,” Moore said.
Why Piatt County? The availability of wind, the rural nature of the county, and transmission lines already in place for the natural gas peaker plant located near DeLand, said the Apex official.
“The advantages the county has is that it’s got a good resource, first and foremost, and that there’s also transmission, which is another important aspect,” Moore said.
But if other area proposals are any indication, it could be an uphill climb.
The DeWitt County board last week narrowly voted down a permit for Tradewind Energy to put up 67 turbines that would generate between 200 and 344 megawatts of power. That came after about 35 hours of testimony to that county’s zoning board.
Residents have also shown concern in Ford County, leading to proposed changes in its special use permit requirements when it comes to wind energy.
Apex has not formally applied for a permit in Piatt County, so that process has not yet begun.
“They will first have to make application for a special use permit,” said Piatt County Zoning Administrator Keri Nusbaum. “They have to apply per turbine because special uses are per parcel. Then it would go through the zoning board of appeals, then the county board process.”
The county charges $300 per special use permit, so the application for 120 turbines would cost Apex $36,000 right off the bat.
Moore admits Apex has been “following” the DeWitt County proceedings, adding that “it’s really hard to transport from one municipality to another municipality how they overlap, but to the degree it is in this part of the state, we keep tabs on what is happening.”
Concerns expressed on the Tradewind project ranged from the impacts on property values to the Lincoln-based Doppler weather system in determining severe storm and tornado warnings.
Moore hopes those questions can be answered during the public engagement and permitting process.
He also thinks the project is a positive for a county that has pride in its agricultural base, noting it allows farmers experiencing lower grain prices to diversify.
“You look at challenging markets, you look at challenging growing seasons, the ability to partner with a project to give consistent income to a farmer is a really positive aspect,” he said. “It’s also cleaner, it’s cheaper and it is consistent in taking advantage of a resource that’s here.”
Piatt County approved a wind-energy conversion system ordinance in 2009. It includes the following requirements:
— Redundant braking systems for all turbines.
— Towers and blades must be painted a “non-reflective, unobtrusive color that mitigates the visual impact of the structure.”
— A maximum tower-tip height of 500 feet.
— Blades must not ever get closer than 20 feet from the ground.
— Towers must be at least 1,000 feet from any primary structure, a distance of at least 1.1 times the tower tip height from any platted community, and also at least 1.0 times tower tip height from any adjacent property. There are also similar setback requirements for public roads, transmission lines, phone lines and communication towers (1.1 times).
— Noise levels must be “in compliance with applicable Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations.”
— A qualified ornithologist or wildlife biologist “shall conduct an avian habitat study” to determine “if the installation … will have a substantial adverse impact on birds.”