Questions about Henry County wind farms? The answers are blowing in the wind

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic

Anyone driving through southern Henry County recently can't help but notice the oversize trucks moving in with loads of windmill components.  

The fourth wind farm project in the county is well under way in Burns Township.  Two existing wind farms are already in the Bishop Hill area and another in Woodhull. 

Avangrid, a wind energy developer, applied for permits to erect a wind farm in the Burns Township area in 2018.  They broke ground earlier this year, and since then hundreds of truckloads of wind tower components have rolled into the area. 

Seventeen towers are to be erected in this project in an area between County Road 4 and IL 81. An additional eight are to be placed north of IL 81 and County Road 14, along with a substation. 

A truck, with oversize load banners, brings in a segment of a tower for the Midland Wind Farm being erected in Burns Township east of Kewanee
(Photo: Beth Welbers)

What makes Henry County attractive to wind farms?

A topographical map (below) shows areas around Kewanee, Galva and Cambridge with naturally high elevations (the areas in red).  According to Jeff Reinkemeyer, a project developer from Avangrid, the wind farm developer, "Henry County is an ideal location to develop and operate renewable energy facilities. From a wind resource standpoint, the area is among the upper tier of wind resource in the whole state. Also, the County is partly in the PJM interconnection area, which provides have several options for energy sales with multiple potential customers. Developing this kind of facilities is very important, as they help boost the region’s economy and create local jobs during all stages of the project (development, construction, and operation)."

A topographical map of Henry County with higher elevations in red, around Cambridge, Galva and Kewanee

What this means for Henry County

The process allows Henry County to charge the wind farm developer permitting fees for the number of towers in advance of construction. Once the zoning and the engineering is done, the construction process begins. 

According to Lynn Sutton, Henry County Board member and a farmer who also lives in the footprint of one of Bishop Hill's wind farms, "This has been very good income for the county over the past 10 years. It has been one of the primary factors that has enabled us to operate the Henry County government with zero deficit spending and we are debt free. Wind farms rank somewhere in the top 5 property tax payers in the county. In short, wind energy has been very good business for the county, and for the landowners."

Avangrid representative Reinkemeyer, stated "Over a 25-year period, the Midland Wind Farm will deliver between $25-35 million dollars in taxes and fees to the local and state economy. It is also creating about 200 jobs during its construction phase and will permanently employ 4-6 people during its operation."

Henry County has done work on the roadways that are used by construction crews to access wind tower sites.  The county roads involved will remain in place, albeit upgraded for the increased weight restrictions., The temporary access roads will be removed once the towers are in place and operational.

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Depending on the agreements in place before the construction, the wind farm developers may be obligated for road construction, removal of access roads, and decommissioning of the farm once no longer in use. 

The downside of this is that for a period of time after the roads are removed, some "tear up" is realized, and landowners are compensated for it.  "Shadow flicker" is also cited as a downside to the operational farm, where the shadows cast by the turning blades at certain hours of the day provide a mesmerizing or strobing effect.  

How wind turbines work

According to the Department of Energy, wind turbines use the wind to generate electricity by turning the three propeller shaped blades attached to the the turbine inside the housing, which spins a generator, creating electricity.

There are diagnostic implements on the turbine, particularly an anemometer and  wind valves that help determine wind speed and direction, and keep the turbine head facing into the wind for maximum efficiency.  The higher up the tower, the more wind.  Therefore, developers will erect towers in excess of 300 feet, on naturally high ground.

The Midland Project consists of 25 towers, each of which will be 591 feet high, with blades that span 246 feet.  Towers have a life expectancy of 40 years.  Turbines rotate at 12-15 rpm at optimal efficiency. 

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"The top of the tower (called the nacelle) includes a gearbox and generator to generate electricity. This electricity is transported down the tower and to the project collection substation via underground wiring. At the project collection substation, the electricity’s voltage is increased to match the voltage of the grid tie in point (in this case, the large substation located off US 34 east of Kewanee), and then transmitted via overhead transmission power lines from the project substation to the large substation east of Kewanee. The point of connection to the grid is at the substation east of Kewanee" is the explanation Reinkemeyer gives on how the electricity is transported once it is created. 

Avangrid's Reinkemeyer expects the Kewanee project to produce 100 Megawatts of electricity, enough to power 34,000 homes annually. 

Oversize loads of windmill blades await an escort to the construction site at Midland Wind Farm near Kewanee.
A crane places a new segment of a tower for a wind turbine in the Midland Wind Farm east of Kewanee.
First segment of a wind tower is in place.  The Midland Wind Farm project will be comprised of 25 turbines east of Kewanee.

Looking at the topographical map, in the "foothills" to the north, just outside of Geneseo are two smaller wind turbines that help supplement Geneseo's electric generating capabilities. In a recent conversation with Director of Electrical Operations, Eric Rowald, between 11 and 12% of Geneseo's electrical needs are produced by these two towers. The towers are only 200 feet tall, with a blade diameter of 77 meters, or 252.6 feet in diameter, and were erected in 2009. Geneseo's population of 6500 is served by the City's electrical utility.