Construction has started on one area wind energy project, while the clock again is ticking on special-use permits for another in Lee and Whiteside counties.
Work has started on the Walnut Ridge Wind Farm in Bureau County. The developer is BHE Renewables, a Des Moines, Iowa-based subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
“We issued the first building permit Aug. 10, and they are planning to build 106 turbines,” said Kris Donarski, zoning officer in Bureau County.
Separate permits are needed for each turbine, Donarski said. The project was green-lighted in January 2016, when the Bureau County Board approved new special-use zoning permits.
The Zoning Board of Appeals, after conducting several public hearings, had recommended that the County Board deny the zoning requests.
The project is on 14,000 acres of land in northern Bureau County. It includes parts of Ohio and Walnut, and Greenville, Manlius and Bureau townships.
Building permits have yet to be issued in either Lee or Whiteside counties for the Green River Wind Farm. Geronimo Energy, which once had the Walnut Ridge project, too, is developing the Green River project on about 13,500 acres of farmland.
A recent development with Walnut Ridge, however, bodes well for the eventual completion of the Green River project.
Two weeks ago, Walnut Ridge LLC closed on a land deal that will allow a transfer station to be built in Whiteside County. The Walnut Ridge developers bought 44 acres of land on Jersey Road near Deer Grove from Marc Schutz for more than $900,000.
“The transfer station will be used to transfer energy from both wind farms to the grid,” said Stu Richter, Whiteside zoning and building administrator.
The Green River plans date back to 2009, starting with Mainstream Renewable Energy, which sold the project to Geronimo in December 2013.
Geronimo plans to build 66 turbines, but only four would be in Whiteside County. BHE Renewables bought part of the Green River project that was supposed to be in Bureau County.
The Green River project has been held up by issues with its proximity to privately owned prairieland, Deer Grove’s decision to not have turbines, and landowner lawsuits.
The company lost three turbines in an agreement to keep the project a half-mile away from 22 miles of prairie owned by Greg Wahl, CEO of Wahl Clipper Corp. Wahl and his attorney, noted environmental specialist Rick Porter, had voiced concerns that the turbines likely would disturb the natural habitat of threatened species.
Lee County approved a zoning permit extension that doesn’t expire until May 2019, but Whiteside County’s latest 3-year extension is up in August.