From WILL - News Headlines -

Champaign County Wind Farm Hearing Draws Crowd, Mostly Supporters

Plans for a wind farm in Champaign County drew mostly spectators in the first of what could be several hearings before the county's Zoning Board of Appeals.

About 60 people came to hear from Chicago-based developer Invenergy discuss its project. Champaign County's portion of the large farm would mean 30 turbines north of Royal, producing 48 megawatts of power. More than 100 turbines will be located in Vermilion County, where a building permit was approved last spring.

The majority of those who spoke supported Invenergy's plans to erect 30 wind turbines in the northeast part of the county, north of Royal. But some had concerns about the wind farm's impact on property values. And others had questions about the road agreements that Invenergy has yet to reach with township governments. Deanne Simms of Penfield called the prospect of being surrounded by turbines 'disturbing,' and she questioned the impact on property values, and Invenergy's road agreement at the end of the wind farm's life span.

"So my question is whatever standard they come down to when they leave, who's going to pay to fix the roads?" she said. "Whose taxes are going up to pay for that?"

But Philo resident Michael Herbert said Invenergy has been an economic boon for his electrical workers' union, providing jobs with more than 350 turbines in the counties served by its members.

"This project and Invenergy, having worked with them before, they built quality projects," he said. "And having driven out on on the roads after these projects are done, the roads are as good or better when completed."

The company's business development manager, Greg Leutchman, said the first hearing presented a chance for area residents to form their own opinion. But before the project can move forward, he said the road agreement must be finalized, as well as ones for decommissioning the turbines, and land reclamation.

"With those agreements, we just want to make sure that we're taking the right information into account, that we're talking to the right people," Leutchman said. "Getting the agreements done to make sure they work for the county and the townships as well as creating a successful project."

Four more ZBA wind farm hearings are scheduled through next month. But County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said it is better the meetings stretch into October than disturb what he calls a 'delicate negotiation' that's gone on over two years, with still nothing in writing with landowners. Invenergy still has to settle road agreements, as well as decommissioning and reclamation plans.

The next SBA hearing on the wind farm proposal is set for Sept. 1.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)