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Wednesday, May 6, 2009 06:45 am

Wind resistance

Property owners have questions about proposed energy project

Pictured is the Harvest Wind Farm in Huron County, Michigan, March 13, 2008. Some neighbors living in the area of a wind farm planned for western Sangamon County don’t want windmills too close to homes. The firm developing the project, American Wind Energ

Residents of western Sangamon County, where a Springfield company is planning to build a large-scale wind farm, insist that they are not opposed to wind energy.

Instead, they want fellow landowners to have input in a project that, “may have tremendous impacts on the health, comfort and home values of families living nearby,” according to an informational flyer put out by a group calling themselves Sangamon County Citizens for Wind Rights.

At issue are the details of a 40,000-acre, 200-turbine wind farm under development by American Wind Energy Management Corp., which is in the process of signing leases for 20,000 acres needed for the initial phase of its Meridian Wind One LLC wind farm in an area bounded by State Highway 125 to the north, Macoupin County to the south and Morgan County to the west, including parts of New Berlin and Pleasant Plains.

AWEM, which has a sister company based in Germany, is simultaneously developing a smaller project of 15,000 acres known as Sugar Creek One LLC wind farm for Logan County. The project will utilize roughly 100 square miles and will be capable of generating 1.2 million megawatt hours of energy per year, according to AWEM’s estimates.

Once the land deals are complete and the Sangamon County board, which must approve the project, gives it a green a light, Oak Creek Energy Systems, a Mojave, Calif.-based firm and subsidiary of Japan’s Marubeni Corp., will construct and eventually operate the facility, says AWEM’s vice president for site establishment Chris Nickell.

Some landowners, who would receive yearly payments plus a bonus if they agree to place a turbine on their property, are wary because of reports and YouTube videos made by people who live close to wind farms and have complaints.

They point out in their flyer that the structures themselves will be nearly 600 feet tall — taller than the Springfield Hilton — and sit on a concrete foundation that is 45 feet in diameter. In addition, property owners say they worry about “ice throw” during the winter, “shadow flicker” caused the turbines’ massive oscillating blades, as well as the potential for ever-present noises akin to a “whooshing to the sound of a jet engine idling on the runway,” which can result in sleeplessness.

Nickell, who grew up in and resides in Pleasant Plains, says all of these problems will be negated by the fact that AWEM will place each of the turbines at least 1,500 feet away from homes. While he acknowledges that there are mathematical models that show ice could be thrown several hundred feet, in reality it rarely happens, he says.

“It doesn’t shoot off like a projectile and I think a lot of times that’s what people think,” he says, adding that as an additional safeguard, turbines will shut themselves off if sensors detect additional weight.

Falling property values are by far the biggest concern, one that Nickell calls understandable. However, he maintains, “In our current green society, people don’t look at wind turbines as an industrial blight like they do a coal-fired power plant or a nuclear plant. People aren’t afraid to live near wind turbines.”

Some aren’t convinced that turbines won’t blight the landscape. Carolyn Patterson, who owns farmland in the area, says she’s afraid that over time there will be “rusting hulks of windmills” on some of the best agricultural land in the world.

“It’s amazing how people roll over for things like this,” Patterson says.

Under the AWEM plan, landowners will lease their land for 30 years and each turbine will occupy between 100 to 125 acres. So far, AWEM has made agreements with landowners for 7,000 acres, but leasing is on hold until after the spring planting season. AWEM hopes to have all 20,000 acres by the end of the summer.

After that, preparing the application to present to county zoning officials will take several months. The application includes environmental studies on possible impacts to bird and bat populations, also a concern to property owners. If things go smoothly, construction could start by the end of 2010, Nickell says.

Other benefits, he adds, include both temporary construction jobs, a permanent field staff of approximately 15 workers and approximately $4 million to the county in yearly tax revenue.

Nevertheless, he knows that not everyone will be pleased. “There are some people who are going to say, ‘Look, this is my house out in the country and I don’t want to wake up in the morning and look at wind turbines,’” he says, adding, “We’re not out to twist any arms. It’s their land; it’s their choice.”

Rae F. Payne, senior director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the Illinois Farm Bureau, which educates landowners about such endeavors, says the important thing is to get details spelled out in writing and to have the contract examined by an attorney and other interested parties, such as bankers and land managers.

The bottom line, Payne says: “A lot of homework needs to be done before any contracts are signed.”


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