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Thursday, May 12, 2011 11:10 am

Wind turbines still in the forecast for Sangamon County

Logan County may get a wind farm, too

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Chris Nickell, vice president of site establishment for American Wind Energy Management, describes how a wind turbine works.
PHOTO BY HOLLY DILLEMUTH

The best way to describe a wind turbine is that it’s the opposite of a fan, which uses electricity to create wind, says Chris Nickell, vice president of site establishment for American Wind Energy Management.

“The wind turbine uses the wind to create the electricity,” he says. Although the miniature model turbine he holds in his Fifth Street office is only about a foot long, just the foundation of one life-size wind turbine can take up to 450 cubic yards of concrete, and reach up to 480 feet when the blade is vertical.

Nickell says landowners are still signing up for the 22,000-acre Sangamon Wind One, a wind farm planned along Route 125 in northern Sangamon County. Signups close in midsummer and Nickell plans to submit an application for a building permit to the Sangamon County Board in spring 2012.

Sangamon Wind Two, a wind farm along Route 104, is also in planning stages and has accumulated 7,000 acres. Each farm will be built 1,200 feet away from property lines and 1,800 feet from houses. Zoning laws prohibit a wind farm from being built within 1,000 feet in either direction of a home.

“I haven’t found any good arguments against wind energy,” says Nickell, who acknowledges that there is always opposition to change.

Farmers receive lease payments for the land from wind developers to use their farms for wind turbines. Each turbine is valued at more than $700,000 for real estate tax purposes. Building a wind farm is essentially like building a subdivision of houses, providing a boost in tax base for schools in the county, but without added students in classroom.

A turbine manufacturer hasn’t yet been selected but plans for an 11,000-acre wind farm with 117 wind turbines is set to take root between New Holland and Middleton in Logan County, if approved for a building permit by the Logan County Board.

If approved, turbines for the wind farm will most likely be higher than those at the Rail Splitter farm near Hopedale, which are 80 meters from the ground to the center. [See “Cashing in on wind” by Patrick Yeagle, Illinois Times, July 1, 2010]. Taller wind turbines create more energy.

“That’s the big reason we do it,” says Nickell. “Wind speed increases with height so the further you get off the ground, the higher the wind speed. If you want to capture more energy, the taller you can get, the better you are. It increases the efficiency of the machines.”

Wind farms are part of an effort to bring the state of Illinois up to 25 percent renewable energy by the year 2025, the state’s renewable portfolio standard. For example, for every 100 megawatts of power produced by a utility, 25 percent will need to be produced from renewable energy.

From a renewable energy perspective, Nickell says that when wind developers build a wind farm, they want to be able to sign a contract with a utility for a long period of time. Signing a contract guarantees that Sangamon Wind has a customer for its power, without which the company cannot guarantee customers renewable wind energy, or the ability to finance projects like those in Logan and Sangamon County.

Utilities are protected because they are regulated and guaranteed to make a profit.

“Those of us in the wind industry, we don’t have that benefit,” he says.

“We have to find customer to buy our power and we’re not guaranteed by anyone that we can make that happen.”

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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