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Local

Keeping their eye on the Sky: Residents bring questions and concerns to Q&A on wind farm project in Lee and Bureau counties

OHIO – Area residents recently weighed in on the proposed project to decommission and repower the Big Sky Wind Farm in Lee and Bureau counties.

The 240-megawatt wind farm was built in 2010 and went online in 2011 with 114 turbines stretching across roughly 14,000 acres, with 58 in southern Lee County and 56 in Bureau County near Ohio.

Project details were presented at an open house and Q&A on Thursday in Ohio, a village of about 500 people, with the main project goal of upping energy production by 30 percent with fewer turbines.

The plan is to dismantle the fleet of towers, similar to knocking down a tree, and replace 51 in Lee County and 46 in Bureau County with upgraded GE turbines at their existing locations that would stand about 457 feet from the ground to the top blade tip.

Developers are petitioning the counties for special use permits to undertake the project under BSW DevCo LLC, and decommissioning could start as early as January. The proposal will go before the Lee County Zoning Board on March 7.

Dozens attended the open house and a few community members asked questions and raised concerns about different project aspects, including infrastructure damage from construction, shadow flicker, and ice being flung from the turbine blades.

Don Meyer, president of the Lee County Farm Bureau, approached the handful of wind farm representatives concerned about damage to the area’s farmland and asked for assurances that the land would be protected.

Leases with landowners have provisions for crop and drainage tile damage, and project development manager Kevin Wetzel said they are required to have an agricultural impact mitigation agreement with the state that’s meant to protect and minimize issues with farmland during deconstruction and construction.

“We really do think this will be a wonderful project for the community,” Wetzel said.

Wetzel said they plan to commit $50,000 to community programs as well as $10,000 to the Ryan Wetland and Sand Prairie Land and Water Reserve.

The project is estimated to create 150 construction jobs.

Pattern Development, an affiliate of California-based Pattern Energy, is handling construction.

The project is funded by private investors and uses a federal renewable energy production tax credit, which provides about 2.1 cents for every kilowatt of energy created.

Big Sky is owned by a fund managed by New York global investment firm BlackRock Real Assets.

The wind farm originally was owned by California-based Edison Mission Energy, which went into bankruptcy. In 2014, the project was acquired by the Chicago-based North American unit of Indian turbine manufacturer Suzlon Group after Edison Mission Energy failed to pay back a $228 million loan from Suzlon for the 114 turbines.

Suzlon then sold the project to EverPower Wind Holdings. In late 2017, British equity firm Terra Firma Capital Partners sold the EverPower operational assets – 752 megawatts of wind developments in Illinois, Pennsylvania, California and New York – to the BlackRock fund.

It’s the second wind repowering project to come to Lee County: Last year, Dallas-based Leeward Renewable Energy began replacing the turbines at the Mendota Hills Wind Farm, the state’s first wind farm built 15 years ago. Mendota Hills’ 63 turbines are being replaced with 29 upgraded ones, with the goal of increasing capacity from 50 megawatts to 76 megawatts.

PROJECT TIMELINE

December 2018 to March – submit permit applications and finalize design

March to June – county hearings and finalize development

July to December – finalize engineering and procurement activity

January 2020 to March – begin construction

March to October – turbine decommissioning and installation

September to October - complete construction

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