Wind power company eyes DeKalb County land

Firm pursuing sites for 1 or 2 farms in county’s northwest

Published: Friday, Sept. 21, 2012 5:30 a.m.CDT • Updated: Friday, Sept. 21, 2012 1:43 p.m.CDT

KIRKLAND – Officials with a company interested in erecting wind turbines in the northwest part of DeKalb County said Thursday they have about half the land they need to develop a wind farm.

About 20 landowners attended a meeting Thursday morning at the Kirkland Fire Department, where representatives of Spanish company Aries Power & Industrial Co. provided details on the wind energy projects they hope to establish in DeKalb County.

The company wants to build one or two wind farms in the area of Franklin, South Grove and Malta townships. It also is working to establish wind energy projects in Champaign County, said Tim McRae, senior project developer for Aries.

Each project could have roughly 100 wind turbines, which the company hopes to build between Routes 72 and 38.

McRae and Camilo Carellan, head of North American operations for Aries, said they’re looking to invest $3 million to $5 million a project in development and equity alone.

Landowners could receive as much as $10,000 annually for each turbine, Carellan said, but that amount is still being negotiated.

If the company receives landowner approval and gets the OK from the DeKalb County Board, construction on the wind farms could begin in two to three years, Carellan said, with completion four to five months later. McRae said he didn’t expect they’ll bring the issue to the county before the end of the year.

“We’re making good progress,” McRae said of the response they’ve received thus far.

McRae likened it to Swiss cheese: They need a large area, and if there’s a few holes where neighbors aren’t interested in participating, that’s OK. But they’re trying to fill in the gaps.

Carellan said they began researching the possibilities in DeKalb County last fall and saw huge potential.

The DeKalb County Board had discussed putting a moratorium on new wind farms in the county after a 2009 deal with NextEra to bring 119 turbines to Afton, Clinton, Milan and Shabbona townships. However, the board never acted to impose a moratorium, officials said.

McRae said his company hoped to have the necessary number of acres by Oct. 1, but they might not make that goal. Between 10,000 and 12,000 acres are needed per wind farm.

McRae and Carellan said they’ve talked to about 35 landowners in the past six months, and have enough interested people for about 5,000 acres. They expect to secure another 6,000 acres within the next couple of weeks.

In their experience, Carellan said, people they approach about the idea will sign nonbinding term sheets eventually.

“That happens all the time,” Carellan said, adding that research shows 95 percent of landowners in a given area support wind energy.

“It is another way to harvest,” he said.

Paul Borek, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp., said the wind energy project would expand the tax base, generate employment during the construction phase and attract private investment in the county. He said he hadn’t personally spoken to residents about the project.

At the meeting, landowners asked about the height of turbines and the amount of land that would be taken out of production per turbine.

Joe Gulotta, who owns 180 acres and lives north of Esmond, asked why there was such a sense of urgency with the project. Carellan said the sooner the project begins, the better, as investors want to see the wind farms built.

McRae said they’re not forcing the issue down anyone’s throat, but the company believes it’s almost reached critical mass, so there will most likely be new wind farms.

Gulotta said he is wary of the project and is concerned about the financing of it with the current economy. He also said he believes the farm land is highly productive as is, and doesn’t want to see turbines taking up valuable space.

When things seem too good to be true, Gulotta added, they probably are.

To Wayne Joslin, who owns 145 acres of land in South Grove Township, it’s a matter of what’s more profitable – crops or wind energy. He thinks it’s wind, and he’s interested in having turbines erected on his property.

He said the project is at a point where it will be apparent in the next 45 days whether there’s sufficient interest.

“They still don’t have critical mass, in my view, to go forward,” Joslin said.

Malta resident Marvin Romanski, who has 160 acres of land, said he’s interested but hasn’t made up his mind yet on whether he wants to enter into a contract with the company as he’s still concerned about the possibility of decommissioned turbines.

Carellan said they plan to hold another meeting in two weeks.

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