Monday, Feb. 5
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The sounds of progress

Horizon Energy proposes Rail Splitter Wind Farm          Send a link to a friend

[FEB. 5, 2007]  The two sounds "whoooooosh, whoooooosh, whooooosh" and "chaa-ching" could be said to characterize the presentation made by Mark Culik of Horizon Energy at the annual meeting of the Logan County Soil and Water Conservation District on Thursday night.

That meeting, chaired by Doug Thompson of Atlanta, was said to have been the best-attended annual Logan County SWCD meeting in recent memory, said board member Cheryl Baker of Emden. On a cold winter night, the promise of good food and an interesting subject filled the meeting room at the American Legion Hall. A variety of interested people, including members of FFA chapters from Hartsburg-Emden, Mount Pulaski and Lincoln, were present, as well as Sen. Larry Bomke from Springfield, Logan County Board member Chuck Ruben and board secretary JoAnne Marlin.

After the meal and the brief business meeting, Culik, a former ag extension adviser with a long career in various parts of the country, began to tell of his current occupation as a project manager for Horizon's wind farm projects across the country. Horizon is developing the Twin Groves project east of Bloomington and is currently conducting research to develop an area in Logan County along the northwest border with Tazewell County in an area from Union to Delavan. This project has been dubbed the Rail Splitter Wind Farm.

Culik described his job as the point man for the projects: meeting with the land owners in the proposed area, deploying the initial test equipment to measure the wind potential in that area, and working with local, state and federal agencies to get necessary licenses, permits and zoning. The initial slides of his PowerPoint presentation were filled with descriptions of the process, data and relevant project-oriented information in words.

There was a noticeable shift in Culik's presentation when he changed from slides with words on them to PowerPoint slides with pictures of the construction and operation of the windmills in a Midwest setting. The wind power generators look graceful and tall, like lithe ballerinas garbed in white standing amidst rows of corn and beans doing axial pirouettes. The 164-foot blades revolve around a hub atop a 328-foot tower, create up to 3 megawatts of power each and produce a whoooooosh, whoooooosh, whooooosh sound that is noticeable within a vicinity of 700 feet.

Each gargantuan tower is anchored to the ground by a pad 54 feet in radius constructed of reinforced concrete 8 feet thick. The towers are brought in on semitrailers in sections and assembled by tall cranes. The generating assembly, called a nacelle, is next mounted on the tower, and finally the hub and blades are mounted to the nacelle. The generating equipment used at the Twin Groves project was manufactured in Denmark.

The blades of each turbine begin to turn at wind speeds of 5 mph, begin to generate electricity at 8 mph and generate at peak efficiency at wind speeds of 20-22 mph. The blades "feather" over 20 mph, and brakes shut the generator down to prevent damage during high winds in excess of 50 mph.

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The electricity produced from the wind farm leaves the turbines through a grid of underground 3-inch copper cables and is either sold to local markets or put on the national power grid and sold across the country.

The wind farms are developed in locations where Horizon can gain access to productive topography, which here generally means a gentle upslope rise to the northeast, the correct wind conditions and local access to power transmission lines.

East of Bloomington, Horizon is currently in their first phase of developing the 240-turbine wind farm, which will produce 396 megawatts of electricity. This project is slated to be finished in December 2007. Culik said the Rail Splitter Wind Farm would likely have 34-60 turbines and produce approximately 100 megawatts of power.

Horizon, owned by Goldman Sachs, promotes their sensitivity toward environmental concerns and their sensitivity toward landowner concerns. Their promotional DVD shows accounts of prosperous, happy landowners who say that Horizon has a good track record of working harmoniously with landowners.

The development of renewable energy sources such as wind farms is currently being promoted by Illinois Gov. Blagojevich and by the federal government as a responsible way to reduce harmful emissions and produce electricity in an environmentally sound fashion. In recent years wind-generated electricity has become price-competitive with coal and nuclear power.

Wind farms are thought to be very beneficial in the areas of the country they are developed. Culik said the Rail Splitter Wind Farm would probably employ 10-20 full-time technicians after construction is completed. Each turbine displaces approximately three-fourths acre of ground, but returns $5,000 to $6,000, sometimes $7,000 a year to the landowner in lease payments and an equal or greater amount to state and local governments in taxes. The benefits to Logan County in both jobs and income potential have landowners and government leaders hearing this potential "chaa-ching" sound favorably.

Horizon is currently in the second year of what may result in a three-year wind study atop Union ridge. You can see their guyed 200-foot test rig on 1250th Avenue near Union measuring wind speed and direction at various heights.

Culik reports that Horizon has signed lease options on 37 percent of the 18,000 acres they hope to develop in the Rail Splitter Wind Farm, with construction slated to begin in 2008 or 2009. Their website can be found at

[Jim Youngquist]

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