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Wind Turbine Project Gets Smaller As Urbana Residents Learn About Energy Plan

Wind Turbine Project Gets Smaller As Urbana Residents Learn About Energy Plan

A plan to generate renewable energy by constructing three wind turbines on the University of Illinois' South Farms site has been scaled down to one turbine located on the corner of Old Church Road and Philo Road.

The project is estimated to cost $4.5 million, and the university said it can only afford to support one tower with that budget.

"It's unlikely we'll be able to do more than one at this time," said Morgan Johnston, the University of Illinois' sustainability and transportation coordinator.

The wind turbine is slated to be built by May 2011, but the project still has to overcome some obstacles. Urbana residents want to know more about the plan, specifically how it will affect them. At a forum Thursday night, the public expressed concerns about the energy project's impact on people in the community, like Duane Schwartz whose home is about a thousand feet away from where the turbine would be set up.

"I think it's just being pushed forward too fast," Schwartz said, who is worried about the turbine's noise pollution. "All the very relevant information needs to be there before it proceeds."

The project would be located about 1.5 miles outside of Urbana, but close enough that the university must still comply with the city's wind turbine ordinance. According to the ordinance, a wind turbine as large as the one the university plans to build has to be at least 1,200 feet away from any residential property, which means the current plan would have to be modified by moving the tower 172 feet to the west northwest. The ordinance also outlines the level of noise shadows produced by the turbine throughout the day.

Before moving forward with the plan, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she wants to explore the project's impact on people living near the site.

"What's the real benefit of just having one turbine if you have to tear up all the roads and put them back together again?" she asked. "There needs to be a real cost analysis here, and it should not be wind power or environment versus you know being against it. This is trying to get a good alternative source of power and do it right."

U of I Engineering Professor Brian Lilly said the university should not be spending money to build a new wind farm. Lilly said he predicts the university could get a greater return on its investment for renewable energy by adding to an existing wind farm where there is infrastructure in place to support another turbine.

"To have a wind mill sitting there, in my way of thinking is not innovative," he said. "If they're really bent on doing a wind turbine, it should go into a wind farm that already exists."

Students at the University of Illinois have been talking about setting up a wind turbine on campus for the last several years. It was originally introduced in 2003 by Students for Environmental Concerns (SECS), who initiated a student fee to support clean energy. By 2008, then-Chancellor Richard Herman canceled the project because of budget concerns.

Several energy companies are in a bidding match to build the wind turbine, and a winning vendor will be chosen next week. The U of I's Board of Trustees will then have to approve the contract during its next meeting on Jan. 20.

A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation supporting the project needs to be used before it expires at the end of May 2011. Urbana officials say they want make sure this project's right for the community before moving forward, even if it means breaking that time frame.

"We don't want to have any artificial deadline that says you got to do it by this date cause the implications are huge," Prussing said.

Johnston said going forward, the university will continue to gather comments about the project, regardless of how long that takes.

"I believe that the granting agency would like to see that we're making strong progress on this project, that we are resolving (the community's) concerns, and that this will be a good investment for their grant dollars," Johnston said. "That is going to impact what they decide about the time frame, and the future of the project."

Another community forum dedicated to the wind turbine project will be held sometime in January. A date and location for the meeting has not been set.