Farming the Wind

By: Erica Hurtt
By: Erica Hurtt

County Leaders and residents across the Stateline are harnessing the wind in hope of creating new opportunities for rural areas.

But the winds of change are also stirring up some controversy.

To Rockford's north, south, east and west, proposals for wind farms are generating a lot of interest and potentially money and energy for local communities.

Wind blowing for decades, Ben Doetch has lived and farmed in north Boone County. A small rural community where neighbors are usually friends, and in many cases relatives.

"This whole part of Boone County comes up a hill so the winds come pretty good," said Doetch.

In Doetch's fields a test tower climbs towards the clouds, collecting data on those winds, data that could lead to the construction of dozens of wind turbines across north Boone County.

"We're very progressive up here. And with a new school coming in we really need a tax base. This is something that adds a tax base without taking away our resources. It doesn't take our land. It's doesn't take our water," Doetch said.

For Doetch and other residents who have signed onto the project, it's a way to preserve Illinois's farming heritage and provide clean energy.

"It could be something that could help secure farmers and give them another source of revenue in addition to farming the ground, they're kind of farming the wind as well," said David Brunsvold, developer of Enxco Energy.

Wind farm projects are also moving forward in Stephenson, Dekalb, Lee and Rock counties. The Stateline is attractive because of its proximity to cities that use a lot of energy.

"As we get the results of this back, then we can go to start to try and sell a project in the marketplace. And that's an unknown as to how long it will take," Brusnvold said.

There are many unknowns with the new technology, which causes concern for Lee County resident Paul Oropeza. Lee and Dekalb counties recently approved a petition to construct 60 turbines between the two counties and more proposals are in the works.

"I've got a view that's just fantastic. I can see upwards of over 40 miles and that's going to be really compromised," said Paul Oropeza, Compton resident.

Oropeza says there are some positive benefits. But he's concerned about the impacts on property values, noise from the turbines and a medical condition that could be effected by the windmills

"This isn't just a decision to be made lightly. It's not a decision that's going to be short term. It's a decision that's going to last an entire generation," Oropeza said.

But north Boone farmer Ben Doetch says it's all relative.

"We sit between two nuclear plants here. So I'm like don't sweat the windmills," Doetch said.

It's important to mention that the north Boone and Lee county projects are quite different. In north Boone each project will be sited on a case-by-case basis and farmer will receive about $3,000 to $5,000 a year to lease their land. On Feb. 24, a seminar on wind development in Boone and Stephenson counties will be held in Belvidere.

wifr.com: Extended Web Coverage

Quick Facts About Wind Energy

What is wind energy?

The terms "wind energy" or "wind power" describe the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity.

Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power can be used for specific tasks (such as grinding grain or pumping water) or a generator can convert this mechanical power into electricity to power homes, businesses, schools, and the like.

What causes the wind to blow?

Wind is a form of solar energy. Winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and rotation of the earth.

Wind flow patterns are modified by the earth's terrain, bodies of water, and vegetative cover. This wind flow, or motion energy, when "harvested" by modern wind turbines can be used to generate electricity.

When was wind energy first used?

Since earliest recorded history, wind power has been used to move ships, grind grain and pump water. There is evidence that wind energy was used to propel boats along the Nile River as early as 5000 B.C. Within several centuries before Christ, simple windmills were used in China to pump water.

In the United States, millions of windmills were erected as the American West was developed during the late 19th century.

Most of them were used to pump water for farms and ranches. By 1900, small electric wind systems were developed to generate direct current, but most of these units fell into disuse as inexpensive grid power was extended to rural areas during the 1930s.

By 1910, wind turbine generators were producing electricity in many European countries.

How is the energy in the wind captured?

Wind turbines, like aircraft propeller blades, turn in the moving air and power an electric generator which supplies an electric current. Modern wind turbines fall into two basic groups; the horizontal-axis variety, like the traditional farm windmills used for pumping water; and the vertical-axis design, like the eggbeater-style Darrieus model, named after its French inventor.

Modern wind technology takes advantage of advances in materials, engineering, electronics, and aerodynamics. Wind turbines are often grouped together into a single wind power plant, also known as a wind farm, and generate bulk electrical power.

Electricity from these turbines is fed into the local utility grid and distribute to customers just as it is with conventional power plants.

Source: http://www.eren.doe.gov/wind/web.html (U.S. Department of Energy).


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