PRINCETON – A wind energy company is drafting a plan for turbines in Bureau County, but the county is not sure what's in the works, an official said this morning.
In recent weeks, a group of wind farm opponents has used a public relations firm to tell the public about the efforts of Minnesota-based Geronimo Energy. That campaign has placed advertisements on radio and in the Walnut Leader.
The group, the Informed Farmers Coalition, is targeting the proposed Walnut Ridge and Green River wind farms, saying it wants to educate farmers before they consider new contracts with Geronimo. Turbines have yet to be built on either farm.
In December, Geronimo bought the Green River project from Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power, near Walnut Ridge. The Green River project would build turbines in Whiteside and Lee counties, but Bureau County's zoning board rejected the company's proposal for 19 turbines.
Walnut Ridge has been approved in Bureau County, but the permits will expire at year's end.
The coalition says Geronimo is reaching out to landowners to sign new contracts.
As of late, the company has given no indication about its plans for turbines in either project. It hasn't returned calls from Sauk Valley Media.
At the same time, the company appears to be undertaking its own public relations effort. Last month, a Geronimo official took questions from elementary school students in Ohio, a Bureau County town that has seen its share of nearby turbines. Each student received a small tree from Geronimo in celebration of Earth Day.
Kris Donarski, Bureau County's zoning officer, said Geronimo has told her that it hopes to submit an application for turbines in the next couple of months, but she doesn't know what the company is planning.
"They are working with landowners in the area. I have not seen a site plan," she said. "With a wind farm petition, it takes longer to process the paperwork than if it were a simple rezone of one house."
Donarski acknowledged she has received more questions lately from Geronimo, usually about the process required by Bureau County.
In a recent ad in the Leader, the coalition warned landowners to think through their decisions before signing contracts to allow turbines on their land.
"Have you seen a truly independent lawyer to review the contract?" the ad says. "Know the facts. There are two sides to every story."
Lee County landowner Larry Gerdes of the coalition said he and his nephew, Steve Gerdes, are handling much of the coalition's expense. He said 30 percent of the participating landowners in the Walnut Ridge project didn't re-sign contracts with Geronimo, which means the company has to find new participants.
"We need to provide more education," Gerdes said. "People don't understand what they're committing to."