By CARL GREEN
Valmeyer, IL – Belleville-area construction workers are keeping tabs on a proposal for a large wind farm that would be built on high ground overlooking the Mississippi River in Monroe County.
The developer wants to erect up to 50 wind turbines along 15 miles of bluff property near the town of Valmeyer, as reported in the Belleville News-Democrat.
Joe Koppeis, owner of Southern Illinois Wind, said the idea is to generate clean alternative energy and produce tax revenue for local schools.
The turbines would be 600 feet tall and weigh some 2,400 tons – the tallest in all of Illinois, higher than the Gateway Arch.
Laborers’ Local 196 in Monroe County supports the proposal, which could generate 45,000 man-hours for laborers and more for electricians, iron workers and other trades.
“Our members live and work in the county. They pay taxes, they buy homes, they go to restaurants,” Local 196 Business Manager Greg Kipping told the newspaper. “They spend their money here, so it would help the community as a whole.”
But the project faces environmental concerns and public opposition. Last fall, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) issued a report on the proposal that made 19 recommendations. The first is that Koppeis should find another location for the wind farm.
The woods and prairie ground where the turbines would be built consist largely of karst, which is eroded limestone known for caves, underground streams, fissures and sinkholes. It might not be able to support the weight of the turbines.
“The thing with karst is, you never know whether there’s a void under your feet, so it’s a challenge to building anything in this part of the county,” said Keith Shank, manager of the IDNR study, in a News-Democrat interview.
Caves in the karst area are also the home of an estimated 200 rare species including the Illinois cave amphipod, a tiny, shrimp-like crustacean that lives only within 10 miles of Waterloo.
Opponents also are concerned about the turbines becoming eyesores, hurting property values and endangering migrating birds including bald eagles. Opponents have formed a group on Facebook, called “Save the Bluffs – Say NO to Joe.”
TO POWER ROCK CITY
Koppeis owns restaurants, hotels, stores and shopping centers, and just opened a medical office complex in Columbia called 11 South. He also owns Rock City, an underground warehouse and refrigeration facility of six million square feet in a former limestone mine in Valmeyer.
Koppeis first proposed the wind farm in 2012 as a way to cut Rock City’s power costs. He brought it up again last year as a way to draw in a big corporation such as Google or Amazon, using renewable energy. Real estate taxes would provide Valmeyer schools with about $40,000 a year per turbine, he said, and Waterloo schools could also benefit.
The wind farm would utilize new technology that lets a few larger turbines generate as much power as larger numbers of smaller turbines. The manufacturer, Senvion, of Germany, has already sold 1,258 turbines in North America.
The ones in Monroe County would generate 4.2 megawatts each, enough to power 3,600 houses. Each turbine would include a steel tower and a 485-foot diameter rotor with glass-fiber blades on a foundation of concrete and rebar, according to Scott Foster, North America sales director for Senvion.
These projects almost always face opposition, Foster noted. “The reason why I’m in this industry is that I have two children, and I firmly believe renewable energy is the way to go,” he said. “Every wind turbine that’s installed reduces the need for the burning of fossil fuels.”
TIME TO REVIEW
What happens next? Koppeis needs to submit various reports to the county to request a special-use permit, which would set off a lengthy review period.
“It’s going to take quite a while for the county to go in and decipher what’s going on here,” said Mike Fausz, the county zoning administrator. “It’s not like they’re building a nursery. This is a huge project.”