NextEra Energy Resources plans to “officially commission” its 145-tower wind farm by the end of this week, although the turbines in the southern part of the county have been harnessing wind and turning it into electricity for a few weeks.
That’s keeping in line with the company’s goal of having the wind farm operating by the end of 2009, said Neil Palmer, a representative for NextEra. The company applied for the permits for the wind farm in January, and the county board approved it in June.
“Everything is operable,” he said Monday. “We’re simply going through a bit of a shakedown.”
He said the last few weeks have been spent in a process that’s typical for any kind of machinery: The company is running the equipment to make sure everything is working properly and making adjustments to get the gear to optimal running capacity.
“If anything looks out of the ordinary, it can be taken offline while a technician goes and checks it. It’s not unusual in this early part of the shakedown,” Palmer said.
Crews were on site last week during an ice storm to see whether the ice buildup caused any equipment malfunctions, but there weren’t any problems, he said.
A crew of 14 have been hired to run the wind farm. Most of their work is done by a remote monitoring computer system, although a local control center will be completed in Shabbona, likely in February, Palmer said.
On Tuesday morning, all turbines were still, appearing frozen against the snowy landscape. But Mel Hass, spokesman for a group of people living near the wind turbines that has sued FPL, NextEra’s parent company, and the county over the wind farm, said he and others have already heard “significant” noise coming from the wind towers.
In lower winds, Hass can hear a “whoosh.” In higher winds – like one evening last week when he went to a neighbor’s house to listen – it can sound like a jet engine, he said.
Towers face Hass’ home on McGirr Road in three directions. He says that depending on the wind direction and speed, he can hear towers nearly half a mile away while standing in his yard. Inside his house, the ones nearest his backyard are sometimes audible.
Hass, and others who live close to the towers, have called the company’s hot line and the DeKalb County Planning and Zoning office when noise issues arise.
DeKalb County Planning Director Paul Miller had taken four complaints as of Tuesday: three were related to noise and one was about shadow flicker, which happens when sunlight catches the rotating blades at an angle that creates a moving shadow through windows.
The first complaints, noise and shadow flicker, were called in Dec. 16 by different people, Miller said. Another noise complaint came in on Dec. 17. On Dec. 22, a complainant called Miller’s office to follow up on their first noise complaint.
“The first thing property owners should do is call the FPL hot line to take complaints and respond to concerns and questions,” he said. “Second, if they don’t feel they’ve gotten any kind of response or are not happy with the response they got, they can call me, call my office. We follow up if there’s an issue, provided it’s one of the conditions of approval.”
Compliance with noise and shadow flicker levels are among the 36 conditions that the energy firm had to agree with in order to build the wind farm.
Miller said that these early complaints do not come as a surprise.
“Considering the size and scope of this operation, I wouldn’t characterize the number of complaints as high or excessive yet,” he said. “Inevitably, there are going to be complaints, especially because there’s a lawsuit.”
The plaintiffs, 38 property owners collectively known as Citizens for Open Government, are pushing forward with the lawsuit against FPL and the county, Hass said.
They were given about a month to amend their complaint after a judge dismissed the original complaint in December. Hass said a court date has not been set, but that they are “nearing completion” to file an amended complaint next week.
Although litigation is pending, “we have to work together to resolve some of these issues to go forward,” he said.
The FPL hot line is 866-223-4808