URBANA — The first of a series of public hearings on a proposed wind farm — the inaugural wind complex in Champaign County — is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.
The county Zoning Board of Appeals will consider a request from Invenergy LLC of Chicago to authorize development of a 30-turbine wind farm in the northeast quadrant of the county just north of Royal in Compromise and Ogden townships. The Champaign County wind farm is part of a larger complex, known as the Calfornia Ridge Wind Energy, that includes 104 wind turbines in Vermilion County. Together the 134 turbines would have a generating capacity of 214 megawatts, and would be valued at approximately $350 million.
The head of the county's zoning office, John Hall, said there's no indication how many people will turn out for Thursday's hearing. Additional meetings are scheduled for Sept. 1, 8 and 29, Hall said. In the past, county officials have said they want the project to go to the county board for its approval in October.
"We haven't been getting a lot of calls so we don't have any idea what to expect," said Hall, the county zoning administrator.
Because there are so many facets to the wind farm case, including reclamation agreements, road agreements and waivers to standard conditions in the county's special-use permit process, a vote by the zoning board of appeals isn't expected until Sept. 8 at the earliest, Hall said.
"And even that, when you start having these meetings every week, that intervening week goes so fast that it's difficult to get much done," he said. "It would be great if we could walk in there on the 8th and finish it.
"What's at issue here is, Does this proposal meet the requirements (in the county wind farm ordinance)? Some people might want to talk about how inadequate those requirements are, and they might be able to make that relevant. But for the most part this will be about, Are the already existing requirements met here or not?" Hall
Two major issues that still have to be resolved, Hall said, are the reclamation and road agreements.
"We don't even have a draft of a reclamation agreement yet," he said. "That's the principle thing that will protect the county board in the long run if this thing ends up going bad. That's critical."
Champaign County's reclamation agreement requirements are more extensive than most other counties, he said. It sets up the process for removing the 492-foot-tall towers and foundations and returning the sites to agricultural use once the project is decommissioned. According to the company's petition to the zoning board, properly maintained wind turbines have a minimum life of 20 years.
"In the event that they have bad luck, go bankrupt or whatever, the reclamation agreement are the rules that take over and ensure the county that either these (towers) will be take down in an orderly manner, and that there's been adequate assurance provided either in the form of a letter of credit or in an escrow account, or that we find some way to get a new wind farm company to take over the project," Hall said.
"I have no doubt that we'll get something that meets our requirements. But it's just a challenge for them now," Hall said.
Similar negotiations for road improvements are going on with the road commissioners in Compromise and Ogden townships.
In a Aug. 18 letter to the zoning board of appeals, the commissioners say that their roads will require upgrading "to withstand not only the overweight and oversize vehicles which will travel over the roads, but also the enormous number of gravel and cement trucks required to build the turbine foundations and access roads."
Invenergy estimates construction of the wind farm will generate 75 large truck trips a day and up to 200 small vehicle trips during a 9- to 12-month construction period.
"We remain optimistic that the terms of a road agreement can be reached within the next few weeks," wrote Marvin Johnson, the road commissioner in Compromise Township, and Greg Frerichs, the road commissioner in Ogden Township.
"They've been working on that a long time and it's sort of frustrating that they don't have an agreement yet," Hall said.
Despite the problems, Hall said, he believes the wind farm will be built in Champaign County.
"We've been told that if we can't come to an agreement in Champaign County, they'll put them all in Vermilion County," he said. "That's something we're sensitive to. But I think we'll get our 30 (turbines) and I think it will be a great project. This is just something we have to work through."
Construction could begin thi