GALESBURG – A vote on a wind farm in northern Knox County appears to be on the horizon.
Two farmers told the Knox County Board Wednesday night that they had a negotiated agreement with Orion Renewable Energy and look forward to taking the matter through county approval in the near future.
Andrew Bowman, one of the farmers, said he didn’t know when Orion might come before the county’s zoning committee as a first step. Both farmers who spoke Wednesday night appeared to be in the ROWVA District 208 school district, meaning the farm would sit between Galesburg and the current wind farm in southern Henry County.
“We do want to lay a foundation of positivity and say how beneficial it will be to area farmers in this area,” Bowman said.
Bowman did give some insight into the financial impact of a wind farm by saying it would bring in $32 million over a 25-year period to Knox County and “key stakeholders.”
“I’m certain I’m going to have friends and neighbors who have a difference of opinion,” Bowman said.
“We can disagree on the subjectivity of the facts, but objectively speaking, we’ve done a lot of things to make this contract” beneficial to the area.
Randy DeSutter, who said he has wind turbines on his property on the Knox-Warren county line, invited board members to visit his farm next week.
This movement follows Orion installing two sets of two data collection towers in Knox County in the last two years. Those devices intake information and are a step before pursuing a wind farm.
Ken Springer, president of the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development, has spoken in favor of wind energy in recent years as Orion had begun to explore the potential of a county wind farm.
“I think it’s a question of opportunity and timing. I think there are some assets in Knox County that make us attractive for a wind project, mainly the transmission lines running across Knox County. In addition to that, having a strong wind resource, and by that I mean strong, consistent wind speed here,” he said.
Part of the transmission line conversation is the fact that Ameren Illinois updated the local line in recent years.
A wind farm would bring construction jobs, but the technology continues to advance. That means it takes fewer turbines to produce the same amount of energy than what it used to require.
Wind energy also joins solar energy and recreational cannabis as potentially new markets that Springer has spoken in support of in recent years.
“If anybody questions why we are doing solar panels and why we’re looking at wind energy and cannabis, that’s what you want your economic development program doing, right? We’re here to find new markets and new avenues,” he said.
“Not only for job opportunities, but for tax revenues for our municipalities and for the county. That’s exactly what we’re here to do.
“If we can help attract a cluster of new industries to the county, that creates career opportunities moving forward; it creates revenue opportunities; it fills vacant real estate; revenue opportunities for landowners in the case of renewable energy.
“These are all positive things for the community.”
Springer highlighted another aspect of renewable energy projects in Knox County: Whether it be solar or wind, it can be a source of guaranteed revenue for local farmers.
“That’s a revenue stream that is not tethered to commodity markets. It’s not tethered to whether or not the sun is shining or we’re getting too much rain,” he said.
“It’s a revenue source that diversifies the income for these landowners that is not going to be affected by international trade disputes. It’s something that’s predictable and locked in and can be very enticing for landowners.”
Springer further said, “Ag is critically important to our regional economy and this whole industry creates another revenue source for our ag folks. That’s just a piece that too often gets minimized, but is very important.”