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Rural Illinois towns enjoy business from wind farm
By TIM ALEXANDER
Illinois Correspondent

ELLSWORTH, Ill. — At the 15-acre “little city” that has grown up outside tiny Ellsworth in central Illinois’ McLean County, more than 150 workers converge each day for freshly mixed concrete, giant spools of cables, rotor blade parts and other components being used in the construction of the massive Twin Groves Wind Farm, which, when completed next year, will be among the largest in the country.

The villages of Ellsworth, Saybrook and Arrowsmith, which border the 30-square-mile area the wind farm will encompass, find business is booming, with service stations and retailers reporting above-average sales due to the workers’ presence.

A visit to Ellsworth, located around 20 miles east of Bloomington-Normal, shows that some of the area’s residents have embraced the project and welcomed the workers contracted by Horizon Wind Energy, a Texas-based corporation.

One elderly Ellsworth couple came out of retirement just to cook lunch for workers on the wind farm project at the town’s park concession stand between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The couple told a television news crew they realized a need to help provide meals for the workers in an area where restaurants are few and far-between, and were delighted to be needed again.

Horizon Wind Energy CEO Alec Dreyer maintained that since the project’s beginnings around five years ago, most residents have been behind the wind farm’s construction like a strong breeze.

“The McLean County community has welcomed this project, and we thank the citizens, as well as local and state authorities, for their enthusiasm,” Dreyer said.

The Twin Groves project, which suffered through federally mandated shutdowns and weather delays, is nearing the end of its first phase, in which 120 towers will be constructed. When completed, 240 turbines will generate around 400 megawatts, or enough power for around 120,000 homes.

From the ground to the tip of their 130-foot blades, each tower will stand nearly as tall as the length of a football field.

According to Horizon Wind Energy, the first phase of the project will support the local economy through lease payments to about 60 farmers and other landowners in the region.

The construction of the wind farm will significantly increase property tax revenues collected by the county and directly benefit local schools, hospital and fire districts and county government, the company said.

In addition, the project will create up to 250 jobs at peak construction time.

The project spans around 22,000 acres, though only around 150-200 acres of farmland will be sacrificed for the towers, roads, substation and operations facility. Farmers continued post-harvest field activities and cattle grazed in the shadows of the towers in early November.

About 150 farmers and landowners have entered into a 30-year lease agreement with Horizon, and will receive a total of around $120 million annually, the company said. In addition, around 40 other landowners residing in the “line of sight” of the project have signed with Horizon and will receive around $25,000 annually.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America initiative has set a goal of producing 5 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind power by the year 2020.

The project aims to provide $60 billion in capital investment to rural America, $1.2 billion in new income to farmers and 80,000 new jobs. The payments to farmers can provide a stable supplement to their incomes, helping to counteract swings in commodity prices.

Crews at Twin Groves are working up to seven days per week to keep the project on schedule, with phase one expected to be completed in early 2007. Project development manager Bill Whitlock told reporters Horizon’s goal is to have all of the towers’ foundations poured by early November and to continue to erect towers during the winter months, while fine-tuning the operational turbines. They hope to be partially operational and generating electricity this December.

This farm news was published in the Nov. 8, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

11/8/2006