The phrase “free as the wind” has long symbolized something comforting without cost. The wind has cooled humanity, and smelled good too.
Wind-powered mills pumped water and ground grain into usable food. It enabled us not to have to do these things by hand anymore.
The wind powered ships around the world for eons until humans wanted to move more tonnage faster and farther.
Steam power, internal combustion and nuclear power emerged to propel vessels. Those same fuels generated electricity.
Today, the interface between “free wind” and electricity is rearing a controversial head in Monroe County.
Local developer Joe Koppeis has sought endorsement from commissioners on a letter regarding plans for a 50-tower wind farm in the bluffs stretching from Valmeyer to Renault. The letter presented to the board Aug. 6 is one Koppeis hopes to send to affected rural landowners.
The letter states that this proposed wind farm would generate both tax revenues and energy. The placement of the towers is to connect to the Baldwin Power Plant, Prairie State Energy Campus, Meramec Power Plant and Rush Island Power Station.
“Given that we believe this is extremely beneficial for the schools, the community, the environment, the local tax base and the future of our region, we hope that you will also support this project,” this letter states.
The commissioners tabled Koppeis’ request but invited him to attend a future meeting and answer questions. Koppeis, who has developed such local projects as Rock City in Valmeyer and 11 South in Columbia, plans to discuss his proposal at the Aug. 20 county board meeting at 11 a.m.
It is anticipated that a large number of citizens will attend this meeting at the courthouse.
The newly formed Facebook group “Save The Bluffs – Say NO to Joe” is adamantly opposed to the wind farm.
Other comments on social media pointed to a reluctance to accommodate change in Monroe County.
Some comments cite damage to the beautiful views of the bluffs, while others indicate concerns about dangers of the huge rotating blades, to wildlife – some threatened and others more plentiful – such as bald eagles and the Indiana grey and long-eared bats.
Literature on the subject also cites low-frequency vibration as a possible noise issue for neighbors at various distances.
The karst caves themselves are cited by some as being endangered by installing the wind towers due to vibration into the ground. The bluffs are underlain by limestone that was deposited when this region was covered by an inland sea more than 100 million years ago.
Water seeping into the ground has dissolved large caves that move underground water and are homes to many species of animals.
The bluffs of Monroe County are riddled with these caves.
The towers are large, standing in excess of 300 feet tall with rotating blades reaching 150 feet higher at their tips for a total of 450 feet. They are placed on concrete bases installed into the ground.
For comparison, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is 630 feet tall.
Koppeis stated in his letter that the permitting process for his proposed wind farm is not yet finished but is being pursued.
In 2012, Koppeis proposed installing a Wind Energy Conversion System to supply electricity to his Rock City development in Valmeyer. The county board worked to pass a wind farm ordinance shortly thereafter.
Koppeis has since expanded his dream.
Wind farms are found all over the world and across the United States. A 2017 figure cited about 57,000 of them, with about one-third concentrated in Texas.
Iowa, Oklahoma, California and Kansas round out the top five states in terms of numbers installed.
Illinois is projecting up to 4,000 wind mill generators when they are largely finished, with most being located north of Springfield. There, they are predominantly situated on flat prairie farm land in large clusters, up to 20,000-plus acres.
Dr. David Loomis, an economics professor at Illinois State University, said that while wind generators originally were located north of I-74, “technology has advanced over the years and today, modern turbines are capable of generating economic power at lower wind speeds.”
Loomis, however, indicated he was unaware of any plans to install this technology in the southern third of the state.
Koppeis has examined wind speeds in the area. He has also reportedly retained an engineering consultancy firm to conduct additional studies of his idea.
While alternative energy sources – wind, solar and water power – are clean sources of energy with the potential to help curb CO2 and other emissions blamed for climate change, they each have their detractors as well. Their possible implementations must be balanced against their costs – financially and environmentally.
In the end, a final decision on the necessary permits to launch and sustain the endeavor will be made sometime in the future by the Monroe County Board. While state and federal governments have laws and regulations to meet as well, the final permission is a local matter.
The permit process is outlined in a county ordinance passed in November 2012.
It lays out the entire life of the devices, from access to property, tower size, operations and maintenance responsibilities, environmental factors, liability insurance, all the way to financial guarantees to ensure proper removal of a tower and site restoration at the end of the each tower’s economical life to ensure this doesn’t have to be done by the county.
Is the wind free? The answer obviously is “yes.” However, as longtime St. Louis public relations advisor Ron O’Connor used to caution, “…there’s a price associated with that.”
That, and a plethora of other issues appear to remain on the road that lies ahead for this endeavor.
Read the rest of this article in the August 15, 2018, issue of the Republic-Times newspaper.