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Big Sky Wind Farm taking a second shot at upgrading turbines in Lee County

DIXON – Big Sky Wind Farm, which has 114 turbines in Lee and Bureau counties, is once again seeking a special-use permit to decommission the 58 in southern Lee County, and upgrade – or repower – them with replacements.

BSW DevCo is petitioning the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals, which will hold a public hearing on the matter at 7 p.m. Dec. 16 in the third-floor boardroom at the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St.

The repower will use the existing foundations and towers and will replace the nacelles, blades, and pad mount transformers, the company said in a letter and public notice that was published in Saturday’s Sauk Valley Weekend.

The replacements could be as tall as 460 feet from the tip of the blade to the base of the wind turbine generator, the company said, adding that some turbine locations may require minor foundation excavation or trench work to upgrade collection circuits.

Legal descriptions of each site are included in the public notice.

It’s not a new request: In April 2019, BSW DevCo petitioned the county for a special-use permit to decommission the 58 turbines and replace up to 51 of them with upgraded models.

Although the old turbines, which were erected in 2010, are projected to have a lifespan of 20 to 25 years, technological advances have made their replacement economically prudent.

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals gave a favorable recommendation for the project after holding seven hearings over 2 months that covered an extensive list of required studies, including shadow flicker, noise and environmental impact as well as conditions set by the board such as requiring waivers from landowners for 10 turbines that no longer met the county’s updated property setbacks.

At the time, the County Board approved the permit unanimously.

Because of scheduling issues and market conditions, the project stalled, and BSW approached the county earlier this year with a revised project and schedule that also requires public review, company spokesman Dave Smith said in an email Monday.

“The new project will use similar turbines and in the same number as approved in 2019. Therefore, the project will not require any additional waivers related to setbacks related to the updated county ordinances, but will comply with the 10 turbines approved during 2019,” Smith wrote.

“Further, due to engineering advances, we can re-use the existing turbine towers thus reducing construction impacts on local roads and local landowners. We will present this plan to the community during the hearings and plan to cooperate with all conditions imposed by the county.

“We are using a turbine approved in 2019, but with a slightly larger generator. There will be no changes to the blades proposed but we have updated all of the noise, shadow flicker and environmental studies to ensure it meets local, state and federal requirements.”

The 240-megawatt wind farm was built in 2010 and went online in 2011 with 114 turbines, the 58 in southern Lee County and 56 in Bureau County, where a similar review and request process is under way.

Those with questions about the project can contact Smith at David.L.Smith@blackrock.com or 770-342-2453.