122017-blm-loc-1windfarm

This map shows where Chicago-based alternative energy company Invenergy plans to build turbines for its new McLean County Wind Energy Center.

FOR THE PANTAGRAPH

BLOOMINGTON — After nearly three full nights of presentations from the developer behind a proposed northern McLean County wind farm, public comment began Tuesday night and is set to continue at least one more.

Residents argued both for and against against a proposal by Chicago-based alternative energy company Invenergy to build the 250-megawatt McLean County Wind Energy Center. The estimated 100 turbines across 13,000 acres in Chenoa, Gridley, Lawndale, Lexington and Money Creek townships would begin operating before 2021.

Another hearing is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in Room 400 at the Government Center, 115 E. Washington St., Bloomington.

"My opinion is that you ought to seriously consider recommending this wind farm as presented, and my great hope is that the turbines find a way to multiply, like rabbits," John Capasso of Fairbury told the county's Zoning Board of Appeals, which will make a recommendation to the County Board on Invenergy's special-use permit for the farm.

Capasso, a former superintendent of the Fairbury-based Prairie Central school district speaking on his own behalf, told the board, "Rural schools need money more than ever," and the wind farm will bring it.

"They cannot make it on a tax base that's farmland and residential," he said. "Schools need industry like this that can grow."

Bill Thacker of Chenoa, who owns an airport near the city, testified as a neutral witness but questioned details of the proposal.

"In the interest of airport safety, neither turbine 22 or 23 should be erected. ... You'd have to look through the turbine to see the runway," he told the board. "Hopefully we can work together to protect the current level of safety and value of Thacker Field."

Before public comment, Invenergy argued the company should not be subject to Illinois Department of Natural Resources recommendations for a 500-foot setback for wind turbines from streams. Four turbines are expected to be that close.

"There has been no evidence that 500 feet is a magic number in term of setbacks," said Invenergy Vice President Kevin Parzyck. "The location and construction of these turbines will not have a direct impact on the stream riverbeds nor the aquatic life that lives within them."

Local residents questioned, however, how thorough the studies are. Amy Winterland of Colfax challenged why the company can't cite a study that says turbines don't negatively affect aquatic life.

"You're trying to prove a negative," replied Parzyck. "You initiate a study based on a problem. ... There's no evidence that this is a problem."

Erin Leiberman, Invenergy's vice president of environmental and wildlife permitting, spoke about birds as well. She said studies show turbines kill about six birds statewide annually, a statistically insignificant amount.

Invenergy laid out sound, wildlife, economic and other details about the farm at Jan. 2, 4 and 9 meetings, including two packed hearings at Heartland Community College's Astroth Community Education Center in Normal.

During public comment, experts are allotted 30 minutes, others get 10 minutes and all speakers are subject to cross-examination by the public and board.

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Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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