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Wind farm work set to begin

Farber: Top Crop intends to finish construction by Oct. 31

By this Halloween, 132 wind turbines could be operational in southwestern Grundy County.

Dwight Farber of Horizon Wind Energy told the Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual meeting Monday that work on the wind farm in Grundy County should begin in about a month, and be completed by Oct. 31.

“We are very motivated because there are tax credits and other benefits if we finish by then,” Farber said.

Work will initially begin on the existing township and county roads to be used in construction, as well as the access roads.

Farber estimated about 50 miles of county and township roads will be used.

The wind farm, which received a conditional permitted use from Grundy County, will cover about 17,000 acres from Mazon southwest to the La Salle County line near Ransom.

The 132 turbines, Farber said, will generate 198 megawatts of electricity.

This is the second part of a three-phase development by Horizon known as Top Crop Wind Energy.

Farber said the first phase of 68 turbines, producing 102 megawatts, near Ransom has been completed. The third phase, which will produce 300 megawatts of electricity, will be developed just over the line in Livingston County in 2011 and 2012.

Farber said the three phases, when completed, will have 55 full-time operational and maintenance employees, including 20 for the Grundy County phase. An operational office is being constructed along Illinois 17 in Dwight.

Each turbine undergoes a maintenance inspection at least twice a year.

He said wind energy can play a role in rural economic development.

“There is no reason why the turbines are not manufactured here where they are being used. Most of the towers are made in Clinton, Ill.,” Farber said.

General Electric, which Top Crop is working with, is a major company in wind energy, but most of the foreign firms now have manufacturing plants in the United States.

The turbines built in Grundy County will generate $1.8 million in property taxes in the first year. Illinois, he said, is only the 16th windiest state, but is seventh in wind energy. Texas recently replaced California as the No. 1 state in wind energy.

Farber said the windiest states, North and South Dakota, do not have the transmission lines so they have very little wind energy.

Illinois has the major transmission lines necessary to take the electricity produced by the turbines, he said. The southern one-third of Illinois has very little wind and turbines are generally not located in metropolitan areas, so the central part of Illinois is a key area for wind energy.

Horizon, he said, looks for ridges, where the wind is forced up, which increases the speed. There is also wind sheer in Illinois, which means the wind speed is higher above the ground. For a turbine, the wind speed 200 feet off the ground is more important than at ground level.

Turbines begin turning when the wind speed reaches about eight miles an hour and shut themselves down when the wind exceeds 45 mph for more than 10 minutes.

“The blades flatten out and the wind goes by,” Farber said. “Of course we can shut them down from our office.”

The turbines are all connected to each other by underground power lines that carry the electricity to a substation at the La Salle County line, where the electricity goes on to the grid.

Farber said Illinois has set a policy of having 25 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Wind is likely to account for at least 75 percent of this, since solar, hydro and geothermal are not likely to produce a lot in Illinois.

Prior to establishing a wind farm in an area, he said, Horizon installs test towers, 197 feet tall, which determine wind speed and direction at 37-foot intervals.

Farber said Horizon must then work with all the landowners, area residents and local governments before establishing a wind farm. In addition to lease payments to the owners of the land where the turbines are placed, the neighbors can also receive a payment.

Before any turbines are constructed many studies are completed to determine the environmental impact, insure nothing is constructed which would disturb endangered species, in a wetland or in a location with historic artifacts.

Farber said Horizon is part of EDP an international company and EDP Renewable.

It is the fourth largest wind energy company in the word and third largest in the United States. Horizon has wind farms in 22 states and in Brazil in South America.

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