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Local

Problems in the sky: Bigger turbines could present safety issue for pilots

In what's being hailed as the "first complete decommissioning on a wind farm in the United States," the owners of the Mendota Hills wind farm, shown here, submitted a proposal to the Lee County Board to take down 63 of its turbines in the county and replace them with about 33 to 35 more efficient turbines.
In what's being hailed as the "first complete decommissioning on a wind farm in the United States," the owners of the Mendota Hills wind farm, shown here, submitted a proposal to the Lee County Board to take down 63 of its turbines in the county and replace them with about 33 to 35 more efficient turbines.

DIXON – Larger, more spread out wind turbines could present a problem for pilots and students flying in and out of Bresson Airport in Compton.

That’s what airport manager Mark Bresson told the Lee County Zoning Board on Monday during the second round of testimony for the Mendota Hills Wind Farm’s proposal to uproot its 63 turbines and replace about half of them with upgraded structures.

The existing turbines are far enough away and short enough not to present an issue for the 70-year-old airport at 2760 U.S. Route 30, which is privately owned but available for public use.

At least three of the proposed turbines, though, would encroach on airport traffic, with two of them about a quarter of a mile away from regular flight patterns, Bresson said.

“They’re just too close,” he said. “It’s a danger to us.”

The new turbines could be 400 to 620 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the blade – about 1 and a half to 2 and a half times taller than the existing turbines – and the tallest would leave only about 180 feet of clearance on the conflicting flight patterns.

That proximity could present a safety hazard for pilots, especially student pilots who would be unnerved by the closeness of the turbine, Bresson said.

“No pilot likes seeing something sticking up in the air,” he said. “The big thing is the safety for the people flying in and out of the airport and the students.”

Attorney Doug Lee, who represents the wind farm, said the Federal Aviation Administration would conduct a study of the impacts the proposed project would have on air traffic, and would identify any problem areas.

In addition to providing more property tax revenue for the county and making the wind farm, which is operating at a deficit, more efficient, the project “will give us a chance to see, once and for all, what it is that goes into being decommissioned,” Lee said.

Chris Green, asset manager for Dallas-based Leeward Renewable Energy, the wind farm’s parent company, said expanding the project’s footprint is necessary to space the larger turbines far enough apart to still be viable.

If the 27 to 34 new turbines were squeezed into the wind farm’s existing area, it would limit its ability to be more economical and efficient, Green said.

The zoning board will hold another meeting on the project at 7 p.m. today, and make its recommendation to the Lee County Board at its Sept. 20 meeting.

ANOTHER MEETING

The Lee County Zoning Board meet at 7 p.m. today in the third-floor board room of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 309 S. Galena Ave.

Those wishing to speak or ask questions can sign up in advance or at the meeting.

Go to leecountyil.com for an agenda or more information.

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