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Federal lawmakers delay Illinois wind farm projects
By TIM ALEXANDER
Illinois Correspondent

CHICAGO, Ill. — The immediate future of wind farm development in Illinois is in question after recent developments have stopped work on several projects in the state indefinitely.

First, the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Homeland Security asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to halt wind farm development until a study assessing the effects of windmill farms on military radar transmissions is completed - essentially shutting down at least a dozen wind farm construction projects throughout Illinois, Wisconsin and North Dakota that are within “radar line of sight,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and other legislators.

Construction on a $500 million wind farm in eastern McLean County has also been stopped after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it plans to review all wind farm projects proposed for construction on possible wetland areas. In addition, development of the same wind farm is in limbo due to a lawsuit brought by local residents whose attorney likens the visual effect of the turbine-powered towers to a psychedelic “disco party” that will “have people vomiting in their backyards.”

Durbin said an amendment to a military spending bill recently passed by Congress calls on the DOD to conduct a study on whether the motion caused by the massive blades and rotors of the windmills may have an adverse effect on military radar.

“The decision by the Department of Defense and the (FAA) to halt windmill construction is premature and may have serious negative economic effects,” said Durbin, who along with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and four other senators from Wisconsin and North Dakota sent letters to both the FAA and the DOD criticizing the agencies’ actions.

“Prohibiting, even temporarily, the development of wind energy facilities within those areas would be a considerable setback for efforts to increase our country’s energy independence,” the letter stated.

Eileen Lainez, a DOD spokesperson, told news sources that “until the potential effects can be quantified and possible mitigation techniques developed, it is prudent to temporarily postpone wind turbine construction in areas where the ability of these long-range radars that protect our country might be compromised” and that she couldn’t say when the FAA study would be completed.

“(This is) stopping the progress of literally millions of dollars of projects,” said Tim Polz, site manager for Midwest Wind Energy of Chicago, which has two projects slated for construction in 2007 in Bureau County and is in the second phase of constructing a wind farm near Tiskilwa.

Michael Vickerman of Renew, Wis., a nonprofit wind farm advocacy group, called the DOD’s actions “absurd,” saying that technology is now available to eliminate interference caused by objects such as wind turbines and cell phone towers.

“There are wind farms operating near military bases,” Vickerman was quoted as saying by Copley News Service. “The economic damage is widespread from this policy.”

Construction on the $500 million Twin Groves Wind Farm in eastern McLean County was delayed for at least another month while the Army Corps of Engineers determines whether the site, located on former corn and bean fields owned by the Central Illinois Regional Airport, is actually a wetland. Horizon Wind Energy, the project’s developer, responded by signing a lease for the land with the airport and plans to store materials on the site until the Army Corps’ study is completed and the project’s future decided.

“(The lease) could last one month. It could last six months. I don’t know,” airport director Carl Olson told the Bloomington Pantagraph. “We just want to keep this project moving forward.”

The Army Corps had announced in March that it plans to review all construction projects proposed for wetland areas in an effort to preserve the country’s fading marshlands.

Meanwhile, a Bloomington attorney filed a lawsuit recently to halt construction of the Twin Groves Wind Farm and accused the McLean County Board and Horizon of ignoring or downplaying the potential dangers associated with a wind farm, including high voltage, risk of cancer and noise and “shadow” pollution.

Attorney Jack Vieley, representing an Ellsworth couple, said shadows caused by the motion of the blades would have a hypnotizing and nauseating effect on some people in their proximity.

“It has a psychedelic effect,” Vieley told the Pantagraph. “I’ve been to disco parties where there are flashing lights or strobe lights and people have to go outside to vomit. I think that’s what will happen here. You’ll have people vomiting in their backyards.”

The Twin Groves Wind Farm will boast more than 260 turbines, which will produce enough power for around 120,000 homes, provided it passes these latest hurdles.

This farm news was published in the June 14, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

6/14/2006