WALNUT — A large group of landowners in three proposed wind farm projects and officials from two wind turbine development companies met at the Green River Country Club in Walnut Monday to celebrate and to assert their unity.
“We got together and we said, ‘Let’s celebrate what we’ve accomplished here,” said Keith Bolin, a project consultant with Mainstream Renewable Power.
Bolin and Matt Boss, Mainstream’s project manager of the Green River Wind Farm, and Bill French, project coordinator at Midwest Wind Energy, were meeting with some landowners to share some fried chicken, a few laughs, and a sense of accomplishment.
Mainstream is developing the Green River and County Line wind farm projects and Midwest is developing the Walnut Ridge project. Bolin said the projects have had opposition, both from the economic meltdown of Wall Street and local residents, but the projects are going to happen.
“Folks, the opposition keeps telling you this is not going to happen and it’s a pipe dream,” Bolin said. “This is not about if it’s going to happen. The only question that should be in the landowners’ minds is ‘When?’”
One message that Bolin wanted to get out had to do with rumors the schools wouldn’t benefit from the wind farms because the state would just reduce its general state aid payments.
Bureau Valley Superintendent John Bute said it’s true the amount of general state aid received by a school district is dependent on local property values, and the more value in a district, the less state aid it receives.
However, Bute said the reduction would not be on a dollar for dollar basis. Instead, the district will receive about 40 cents less in state aid for every additional tax dollar generated.
In addition, the state is again behind in its payments to the schools, currently about $750,000 in the Bureau Valley district.
“We are so excited the landowners in the area are supporting the Green River project and the Walnut Ridge project,” Bute said.
The landowners at Monday’s meeting were all supportive of the projects.
Charles Meisenheimer of rural Walnut is a landowner in the proposed Walnut Ridge Wind Farm, and said he has no complaints.
“I don’t know of any of us today that wouldn’t appreciate some extra money with the prices of gas and food,” he said.
Meisenheimer said he wasn’t worried about rumors that his land would lose value.
“I’ve seen reports that (wind farms) do not devalue the land and I have no concerns,” he said.
Katherine and Leonard Vick of rural Walnut are landowners in the proposed Green River Wind Farm.
“There is no negative to it as far as I see,” she said. “It will be good for our family down the road, and for us, too.”
Vick discussed attempts by protesters to have the village of Walnut require a greater setback for turbines proposed for outside the village limits.
“They forget this is going to give more jobs in the Walnut community,” she said. “This is all going to help our community.”
Also present were Eleanor Zimmerlein and her son Howard of rural Van Orin. They are landowners in the County Line Wind Farm, a 40 megawatt project proposed for just east of the Big Sky project and divided between Bureau and Lee counties.
Eleanor Zimmerlein said they were anxious to see the project get going so the community can take advantage of the economic benefits.
“This is our retirement income,” she said.
In addition to benefiting the landowners, the projects provide more money for schools, and the whole community benefits when the landowners spend their income locally.
The developers confirmed there are currently 75 landowners in the Walnut Ridge project, 60 in the Green River project and 10-12 in the County Line project.
“It’s a tremendous amount of people who have decided they would like to participate in wind development,” French said. “It’s better to be able to control your future as opposed to the state controlling your future.”
French said that when the Bureau County Board granted the extensions for the conditional permits for the Walnut Ridge project, the developer promised to make some changes, and he is currently doing a shadow flicker study and a TV station analysis study.
French said there is no timetable set for further development of Walnut Ridge.
Boss said they are pushing to get the Green River project ready by the end of the year.
“We’ll be going into the counties for permitting later this year,” he said. “We’re very confident that by the end of this year, power purchase agreement not withstanding, we’ll be pretty much good to go.”
It can’t be soon enough for the landowners.
“God gave us the wind, and to use it as wind energy is the best,” Katherine Vick said. “I just think it’s a real good way to go.”
Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.