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Wind trip proves informative for residents

Dayton Daily News|Natalie Morales|September 29, 2007
IllinoisOhioGeneral

Tour group members took turns being photographed standing in different spots near the blade, trying to get shots in an angle that might adequately show the immensity of the rotor. Once in place, it will span 263 feet in diameter while spinning.


McLEAN COUNTY, ILL. - A tour of the Illinois countryside lined with a collection of wind turbines gave some Champaign County residents insight into what might soon blow their way.

On a trip organized by the Ohio Farm Bureau, the group toured the Twin Groves Wind Farm in McLean County, Ill., which includes 120 operational towers and another 120 under construction by Houston-based developer Horizon Wind Energy.

Construction of the wind farm began in July 2006, with the first batch running in March. The second half are planned to be operational by January.

More than 300 landowners signed lease or easement agreements with Horizon to allow turbines, access roads and transmission corridors on their property, according to the company.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced in August that New York-based Everpower Renewables - another wind energy developer - would receive up to $3 million in grant money to move forward with its Buckeye Wind Project, which would go through Union and Wayne townships in Champaign County and extend into Logan ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]

     

McLEAN COUNTY, ILL. - A tour of the Illinois countryside lined with a collection of wind turbines gave some Champaign County residents insight into what might soon blow their way.

On a trip organized by the Ohio Farm Bureau, the group toured the Twin Groves Wind Farm in McLean County, Ill., which includes 120 operational towers and another 120 under construction by Houston-based developer Horizon Wind Energy.

Construction of the wind farm began in July 2006, with the first batch running in March. The second half are planned to be operational by January.

More than 300 landowners signed lease or easement agreements with Horizon to allow turbines, access roads and transmission corridors on their property, according to the company.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced in August that New York-based Everpower Renewables - another wind energy developer - would receive up to $3 million in grant money to move forward with its Buckeye Wind Project, which would go through Union and Wayne townships in Champaign County and extend into Logan County.

The project is proposed for completion in mid-2009.

Local connection

Many Wayne and Union township residents have talked with company representatives and expressed interest in working with the project.

Some residents - including members of Union Neighbors United - are concerned about health, environmental and land-use problems they feel a wind farm could create.

Many of the trip attendees support the advancement of a local wind farm and said they would participate if given the opportunity.

"You hear a lot of pros and cons, but I think the pros far outweigh the reasons for not having them," Roderick Yocom said, adding, "I've learned quite a bit and hopefully we'll have some back in Champaign County some day."

No members of Union Neighbors United attended the trip, though they were invited, said Jason Dagger, the farm bureau's organizational director for Champaign, Clark and Madison counties.

One member, Julia Johnson, said she had a conflict with the trip date but said she wouldn't have gone even if she had been available.

"Our issue here is not that we're anti-wind," she said. "Our issue here is about land-use planning."

The panel

A panel of McLean County government officials described their involvement with the wind development project.

Some opponents argue that development in rural areas can ruin roadways because of the weight of the structure carried in, but many McLean County roads improved during the process, said Bob Kahman, a supervisor of assessors for the county.

The roads were improved - most of them widened and paved - to handle the weight and equipment, he said, adding that the company paid most of the costs for the upgrades.

Though the more than 300 jobs brought to the area during construction will drop significantly once the turbines are operational, they've helped more than just the job market, said Marty Vanags, director of the economic development council for Bloomington/Normal, the major cities in McLean County.

The extra employees meant increased hotel stays and more patrons at local stores and restaurants, he said.

The county's convention and visitors bureau has been urged to put the wind farm on its tour, and Horizon itself will have a visitors center to field questions, Vanags said.

He re-enforced the importance of local townships pushing for what will improve their jurisdictions once the project is complete.

"Demand that the company spend a lot of time in the community discussing what they're planning to do so the residents feel comfortable," Kahman said.

Optical illusion

From behind a barn next to Kurt Williams' McLean County home, the closest of five 410-foot tall wind turbines on his property didn't appear overwhelming or monstrously tall.

As trip attendees were called away from taking photos to go to the turbine site, they wondered why they were loading back on the bus instead of just walking to the wind machine.

The bus went down a road lined by cornfields until it finally stopped next to the turbine.

Riders shared a moment of realization when they looked back toward Williams' house, which now appeared to be no bigger than a doll house sitting on the other side of a large plot of farmland.

Nancy Virts said she couldn't believe how much larger the turbine looked when she was standing right next to it and was shocked at how close it had looked from Williams' home.

The proximity of the turbine fooled a few of the riders, even though they knew each wind tower was required to be set back at least 1,500 feet - more than four football fields in length - from a residence.

Wind worries

Williams answered questions from the group about any problems he has faced since the wind towers moved onto his property.

One downed, but still living, bat, the initial and simultaneously flashing red lights atop the towers and worsened TV reception were the main concerns Williams addressed.

The bat that Williams, 36, saw under a tower was the first he's seen in his life, and the lights that flashed on 86 of the towers throughout the night now flash randomly on only about 25, he said.

The lights are not as noticeable up close as they are from a distance, he said.

The TV disturbance is a main complaint Williams has heard, but he said Horizon has provided satellite service for people with the most problems.

Some wind turbine opponents have concerns about the sound and shadow the rotating blades create.

On the trip to McLean County, some shadows were cast on a nearby field about 4 p.m., but the turbine was set far enough from residences that they were unaffected.

The tour bus was turned off when the group investigated the area around a working turbine on Williams' property so the group could hear a motorized hum coming from the tower's base.

The blades spun above the heads of the tour group, but no swishing could be heard as the wind turned them.

Tourist attraction

The group clicked away with the cameras, documenting their mission.

Though most photos taken at the first few stops were of the turbines themselves, a stop at the first of the construction sites changed the atmosphere.

The base of the tower stuck out of the ground while the additional columns to build on top of it laid nearby on the ground.

More outstanding, however, was the assembled but not yet attached trio of blades also on the ground.

The bright white of the 20-ton rotor popped out against the browns of the dirt and dried corn fields that surrounded it.

Tour group members took turns being photographed standing in different spots near the blade, trying to get shots in an angle that might adequately show the immensity of the rotor. Once in place, it will span 263 feet in diameter while spinning.

Some people even rapped their knuckles against the blade to hear the echo of the hollow frames, made of fiberglass and wood.

The spread of the blade is comparable to the wingspan of a 747 airplane, said Bill Whitlock, senior project development manager for the Twin Groves project.

The cement buried deep in the ground to keep the towering structures from toppling likely will make the ground they sit on unusable for future farming, but Williams said that was something his family accepted before agreeing to lease their land.

Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0226 or nmorales@coxohio.com


Source:http://www.daytondailynews.co…

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