Wind Farming in Illinois

by Patrick Kirchhofer, Peoria County Farm Bureau

On February 6th, a conference was held at the Hotel Pere Marquette entitled “Siting, Zoning, and Taxing Wind Farms in Illinois.” It was organized by the Illinois Wind Working Group, the Center for Renewable Energy and Illinois State University.

Wind farms have sprouted up throughout central Illinois in the past five years. To our north, Orion Energy has constructed 100 wind turbines—40 in Stark County and 60 in Marshall County. If you take Route 40 north of Peoria to Bradford, you will travel between the turbines on the Camp Grove Wind Farm, which went online in late 2007. The $200 million project employed 200 workers during the construction phase and currently employs eight to 10 full-time workers.

To our south, along Interstate 155 in Logan and Tazewell counties, the Horizon Wind Energy Company is constructing the Rail Splitter Wind Farm. It will be completed with 67 turbines; 38 of these are anticipated to be built in Tazewell County. The turbines are located on what is called Union Ridge, and if you’ve traveled I-55 south, you’ve probably noticed the distinct and sudden change in topography that makes it an ideal location for strong wind currents.

East of Bloomington, the Twin Groves Wind Farm consists of 240 wind turbines spread over 22,000 acres in McLean County, also owned and operated by Horizon Wind Energy. Take Route 9 east of Bloomington, and you will see turbines lining the road all the way to Gibson City. The wind farm was constructed from 2007 to February 2008 and is currently the largest utility-scale wind farm east of the Mississippi River.

The wind turbines have a projected life span of 25 to 30 years. The early turbines produced around half a megawatt, but the more recent, larger installations produce closer to two megawatts per turbine. The recent capacity of Twin Grove Wind Farm was 398 megawatts, producing enough power for 120,000 homes.

For each turbine, approximately one acre of land is taken out of production for the gravel roads, switchyard, control building and site location. Royalties paid to landowners are around $5,000 to $6,000 per turbine.

Why are so many wind farms being developed in Illinois? Along with the strong wind currents in the central and northern parts of the state, Illinois has a robust wind transmission system to feed power to our large urban population, thus making local wind power transmission from the turbine to the usage point more efficient. Although states to our west have stronger and more continuous wind currents overall, the challenge is transferring that wind source from a remote location. Studies show that North Dakota could actually supply one-fourth of the U.S. power demand with wind.

Currently, wind energy is not being stored. As the wind blows and the turbines turn, the power goes straight to the power grid and is utilized. Those quiet, hot, humid summer days are the most demanding times for the power grid system. Quite often, peak energy demands occur when the wind is not blowing. That’s one reason why wind is just one cog in the renewable energy wheel.

In an effort to diversify our economy in total energy sources, Illinois has a renewable energy standard that requires the state to purchase 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by the year 2025. Wind energy is one way to lesson our dependence on foreign oil and rely on our own energy sources. iBi

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