BLOOMINGTON — Union laborers who could build a new McLean County wind farm and local landowners who would live near it squared off Wednesday in one of a series of public forums on the proposal.
Workers spoke in favor of Chicago alternative energy company Invenergy's special-use permit for the McLean County Wind Energy Center because it would create jobs over the next three years and property tax revenue for local schools for decades. The 250-megawatt wind farm, which would have about 100 turbines spread across Chenoa, Gridley, Lawndale, Lexington and Money Creek townships, would begin operating before 2021.
Landowners, however, said the county's Zoning Board of Appeals should deny Invenergy's permit because the turbines would degrade their quality of life and may not benefit their local schools as much as the company claims.
"You guys keep presenting yourselves as needing jobs, and I'm asking, 'Will you be forced to live near a wind farm?'" said Sara Emberton of Lexington in one confrontation.
"I don't think I'm forced to live anywhere," responded Laborers Local 362 member Eric Penn of Bloomington, who poured concrete for Twin Groves Wind Farm near Ellsworth.
Penn said the union got 140,000 hours of work and $4 million in wages from the two-phase Twin Groves project and White Oak Energy Center near Carlock.
Mike Matejka, government affairs director for Great Plains Laborers District Council, noted that Invenergy wants to spend $300 million on the project without any local incentives — unlike Portillo's, Rivian Automotive and the Brandt Group of Companies, which received tax breaks for the promise of jobs.
"This is a real opportunity to move our community forward, to come up to new standards and put ourselves in a position where economic development will continue," said Matejka. "That doesn't happen by accident. That happens by leadership and foresight ... so I hope this board and the McLean County Board will vote to support this project."
Amy Winterland of Colfax said she's concerned about an estimated 450 residents who aren't getting money from Invenergy to put a turbine on their land but will be live near one regardless, like her.
"We will have 10 turbines within a 1.25-mile radius of our house," she said. "I personally do not know what 47 decibels at 50 hertz sounds like. That's the maximum decibels at night from the Illinois Pollution Control Board, (and) the model that they are hanging their hat on ... might have some flawed estimates."
Commenters also questioned whether the environmental and health impacts of the wind farm have been adequately studied.
"Consider this on environmental and natural resources, not just the money end of it — jobs that will end, and numbers that may or may not be true," said Julie Cotter of Lexington, who would live near nine turbines.
Another hearing is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 23 in Room 400 at the Government Center, 115 E. Washington St., Bloomington.