PRINCETON – When the Big Sky wind farm started a few years ago in Bureau County, it set aside money in escrow, in case the company abandoned the project and the county needed to take down the turbines.
That money was required by the county. The account contains nearly $1.8 million.
Now, the wind farm's prospective owner wants to do away with the escrow account and go, instead, with a letter of credit, which is a bank-guaranteed promise to pay.
In a 5-2 vote, the county's zoning board last month recommended the County Board keep the cash in escrow. Shortly after, the County Board delayed a decision until State's Attorney Pat Herrmann could get an opinion from a Springfield attorney, according to the meeting minutes.
At a meeting Monday night, the zoning board is expected to reconsider the issue. The County Board is slated to vote on Pittsburgh-based Ever Power's request next Tuesday.
Ever Power has 114 turbines, about evenly split between Bureau and Lee counties, many of which surround the Bureau County village of Ohio.
Deb Anderson, who lives in that area, has long called for more regulation of wind turbines, including tough decommissioning standards.
"A letter of credit is only as good as the paper it's written on," Anderson said. "The way the banking industry is right now, what's to say the bank won't go belly up?"
Besides, she said, the nearly $1.8 million is nowhere near the amount of money that would be needed to take down the turbines.
Former Franklin Grove Village President Bob Logan, who has researched wind energy issues, agreed.
"Cash escrow means you have the money on hand," Logan said. "If the [wind] companies go bankrupt, as many of them do, the letters of credit are worthless. Cash escrow is definitely better than a line of credit."
Ever Power is about ready to close on the purchase of the Big Sky wind farm from India-based Suzlon, said Mike Speerschneider, the company's public policy officer.
"We think a letter of credit is just as safe," he said. "We're working with the county to work within the parameters of the decommissioning plan."
Lee County has a letter of credit for its half of the Big Sky project, Speerschneider said.
The Bureau County Board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, at the County Courthouse. It is expected to vote on Pittsburgh-based Ever Power’s request to move nearly $1.8 million from escrow to a letter of credit.
Call 815-875-2014 or 815-875-3239 for more information.