Wind farm proposal fuels heated debate

Pictured is a map showing a portion of the area Joe Koppeis wants to build his wind farm. (Alan Dooley photo)

About 100 residents came to the Monroe County Board meeting Monday to discuss a proposed wind farm south of Valmeyer.

The matter first came up during the Aug. 6 board meeting, when local developer Joe Koppeis submitted a letter for the board to sign and endorse the more than $200 million, 50-turbine project. 

The board tabled his request at that time and asked Koppeis to attend this week’s meeting. He did, along with dozens of Monroe County residents who are passionate about the issue. 

Prior to Monday’s meeting, the county also received more than 100 emails on the subject. 

Koppeis spoke first about what he believed would be benefits of the project. 

“Clean energy is a good thing,” Koppeis said. “Our project will overall be good for our community, our environment, job creation, schools, landowners and all the taxing districts who will benefit from our wind farm.”

Koppeis said he decided to build the turbines here because the transmission lines are already in place thanks to nearby power plants in Missouri, Baldwin and the Prairie State Energy Campus in Marissa.

He said the lower wind speeds in the area require higher towers, but the ease of tapping into existing lines makes it worth it. Some estimates show the proposed turbines to be about 600 feet tall from the base to the tip of the blade.

Koppeis then outlined the steps he has taken since he began investigating this project in 2007, including investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in viability and environmental impact studies.

Koppeis also pointed out Illinois requires 25 percent of all energy come from renewable energy by 2025.

After Koppeis spoke, he faced questions from commissioners and those in attendance. Several concerns were expressed, mainly by members of the public.

Property value impact
The most common concern among those assembled was how the wind turbines would impact their property value, including the scenic view of the bluffs.

“This literally will be in my backyard,” one Monroe County resident said. “I live right away from where this is going to be. Property values within miles of these things drop 25 to 50 percent. Some homes are not salable period once these things go in.”

One factor that might contribute to decreased property values is the land could be marred by the turbines.

“It’s going to be a complete eyesore and ruin our landscape,” a Waterloo resident said.

“I do not want this in our county,” another Monroe County resident said. “It’s a black eye.”

“This is going to impact the landscape of Monroe County in ways we have not seen since the Flood of ’93,” a Valmeyer resident said. “Once we get it, we aren’t taking it back.”

Koppeis said the view of the bluffs themselves would not be harmed by the turbines, as they will be one to two miles away from the bluffs. He also said there is a one-quarter-mile buffer zone between the top of the bluffs and where he wants to build.

“We’re not going to do anything to the bluffs,” Koppeis stressed. “All the wooded area around the bluffs, we don’t plan to do anything with.”

He further added the turbines will not involve clear-cutting the top of the bluffs, only the removal of a few trees to make roads. Most of the turbines will go on farmland Koppeis is working to lease from owners.

Other residents said noise from the turbines, which may be imperceptible, can cause sleep deprivation.

Koppeis said that with advancements in wind turbine technology, they will make limited noise. Models like the ones he is proposing have also been tested for noise.

Economic impact
On a similar note, some attendees expressed concerns over the economic impact of the wind farm.

Koppeis said one of the chief benefits of the wind farm would be that each turbine would generate $40,000 a year in real estate taxes.

The majority of that money would go toward the school district in which the turbine is located. In this case, that would be the Waterloo and Valmeyer school districts.

One Fults resident at the meeting questioned how this would change due to a 3 percent depreciation rate he said was specified in the county’s wind ordinance.

Koppeis said that would not hugely impact the tax revenue.

“The assessor will assess what he thinks is the fair market value of the turbines, just like he does your home or anything else,” Koppeis said.

Another economic issue discussed dealt with jobs created by this development.

Koppeis said it would create 15-20 permanent jobs and thousands of construction jobs while the farm is being built. He said he wants most of those employees to be local.

Residents also expressed worry about how the wind farm would affect workers at the Baldwin power plant, as congestion caused by more energy on the lines could harm that already struggling facility.

Koppeis said jobs from the wind farm will offset some jobs lost in recent layoffs at that facility.

He also encouraged people to go to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator website and view maps showing congestion in the area because he said it was not too bad.

Environmental impact
Another common concern related to the negative environmental effects of the turbines.

In 2012, the consulting engineers and scientists company Terracon completed a study commissioned by Koppeis on this issue.

“Terracon… found no environmental reasons not to build a wind farm,” Koppeis said.

That did not satisfy the concerns of everyone involved.

“I sincerely doubt there are no threatened or endangered species where he’s planning to build these turbines or the access road to them,” one Waterloo resident said.

Another Monroe County resident said other wind farms have underestimated how many birds the turbines kill. He also cited the wind shear from the bluffs as potentially driving more wildlife into the turbines.

Koppeis has recently commissioned new environmental studies, which will be complete next year.

Koppeis also attempted to allay concerns about the turbines impacting cave systems.

“We’re not going to go near sinkholes,” he said. “We’re not going to go on top of caves.”

He also said the turbines will not be built on unsafe ground, like the karst topography of underground limestone penetrated by caves and sinkholes that makes up a portion of the bluffs.

Moving forward
Most residents seemed unmoved by all of Koppeis’ arguments.

“If we can’t get better answers, it’s not an excuse to go forward. It’s an excuse to stop,” one said near the end of the meeting.

Merrill Prange, a longtime public servant in Monroe County, was one of the final speakers and got a huge round of applause when he summed up his feelings on the project.

“I can see nothing that will benefit the overall good of Monroe County by accepting this project,” he said.

Nothing was voted on or decided at the meeting as it relates to the wind farm because the project is in its early stages as far as the county is concerned.

“This development has the proper channels to go through,” Commissioner Vicki Koerber said. “For those of you who have commented this is a done deal, it is not. This is just the beginning.”

Koerber also directed interested parties to the county’s ordinance on wind farms.

Koppeis said he has and will continue to go through the right channels.

“There has never been any secrets or behind-the-scenes activity on this project,” he said.

The project is still a long way from being done. An associate of Koppeis at the meeting estimated the project still has 1.5 to two years of development.

For now, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is studying the proposed development. When finished, Koppeis must file an application with the county’s zoning and building department.

Then, the issue would go to the planning commission before going to the zoning board of appeals for a final decision.

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