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Wind Power Picks Up in Illinois

May 10, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. - Drivers used to see nothing but farmhouses and fields on road trips through Illinois, but now the landscape is dotted with huge wind turbines. The first one was powered up in 2003, and today Illinois is home to more than 1,000 turbines on 13 wind farms. They provide enough renewable energy to power 500,000 homes.

Four wind turbines have been harnessing energy and producing revenue on Randy Lloyd's farm near Bloomington for three years. It's part of the 240-turbine Twin Oaks wind farm, the largest in Illinois. Lloyd can see the turbines from his house and he is pleased with the outcome.

"Change is coming, and this is one of them. This is, to me, a pretty easy to get along with change."

Because the company that serves homes in nearby Bloomington uses coal generation, the electricity generated by the windmills on Lloyd's farm is exported elsewhere.

"Those electrons are sold on the international market, where ever there's a need. They can go anywhere from Saskatchewan, to New York, to Washington D.C., to Maryland where my kids live and air condition their house with electrons from granddad's farm, all the way to light the lights at Disney World."

Wind power in Illinois is suffering some growing pains, however. In DeKalb County, some residents have filed lawsuits over windmills that they say have been placed too close to their homes and keep them awake at night. One man recently called a county board member to complain that a windmill sounded like a 747 jet, but Lloyd says his windmills don't bother him.

"It's very soothing, really. It's kind of a white noise. You get used to it after a while. If you get 1,000 feet away from them, you can't hear it at all."

Wind energy opponents say turbines near homes sometimes cause health problems or kill birds and bats. Lloyd says tests have turned up no evidence of harm to wildlife or people on the wind farm near his home, and he knows of no one who suffers ill health effects there.

The city of Evanston is considering a wind farm offshore in Lake Michigan. Because of potential effects on bird migration patterns, the Chicago Audubon Society opposes the Evanston wind farm. However, Libby Hill with the North Shore Bird Club says each wind project should be judged on its own merits.

"Every wind farm is unique, and every wind farm requires individual study about what will happen with migrating birds and also what its effect on habitat will be."

Illinois law mandates that 25 percent of electricity be provided by renewable sources by 2025.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL