Company confident on proposed wind farm, despite lawsuit

Firm: Construction could start this year

DIXON – A Minnesota company could start construction on the proposed Green River wind farm in Whiteside and Lee counties late this year or in 2015, a company executive said Thursday.

A similar timeline exists for the Walnut Ridge farm in northern Bureau County, which Geronimo bought last year, said Tim Polz, the company’s vice president.

“The goal is to have the project contracted out in the first part of 2014,” he said.

Last month, the company bought the Green River project from Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power, announcing the transaction Wednesday. The price was not disclosed.

The purchase works well with Geronimo’s plan, because the wind farm is near Walnut Ridge, company officials said.

Geronimo’s timeline depends on when the company is able to obtain power purchase contracts, Polz said. The company is seeing “significant interest” from potential buyers, including traditional utilities, industrial customers, and government agencies, he said. 

One hurdle for the project is a lawsuit filed by 60 residents against Lee County and Mainstream.

They contend the project will be incompatible with surrounding land uses, decrease their property values, and create noise and shadow flicker.

“Lawsuits can have an effect of delaying projects,” Polz said in a telephone interview. “We will litigate the project in due course. We feel we can meet construction timelines, despite the ongoing litigation.”

In Lee County – the birthplace of wind farms in Illinois – the Green River project was especially controversial, with residents citing problems with others.

During the hearing phase, Lee County’s zoning board met 32 times for a total of 80 hours.

As for dealing with neighbors, Polz said, Geronimo has an approach that is different from other companies.

“We were founded by a farmer,” he said. “We are conscious of the farming community. We take a very farmer-centric approach.”

For its neighbors, Geronimo creates nonprofit entities that are turned over to members of the community, including landowners who have turbines on their properties and those who don’t.

“We fund that entity on an annual basis,” Polz said. “The participating and nonparticipating landowners choose where that money goes. It’s really to benefit the community at large.”

Geronimo has three active wind farms in Minnesota, and it has a number of other projects in development. The company plans to quadruple its power generation capacity in the next few years.

Mainstream has no wind farms in North America. It typically handles the development of projects, then sells them to other companies before construction. 

“Mainstream has a demonstrated track record of success in developing projects,” Polz said. “We felt that the development process was handled well by Mainstream. We were confident stepping in.”

Mainstream had planned for 53 turbines in Lee County and nine in Whiteside County.