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KEMPTON — The race to build Ford County’s second wind farm is picking up speed.
Three days before the county’s planning commission was to meet to consider a special-use permit for a proposed 100-megawatt wind farm east of Paxton, the Ford County Board learned Monday night that it should be prepared in April to approve a road-use agreement for the already permitted K4 Wind Farm, being developed by Cincinnati-based Vision Energy.
Approval of the road-use agreement represents the last remaining obstacle for the long-delayed K4 project other than paying for building permits for each proposed turbine. The project would involve 97 turbines being built on the far-north end of Ford County near Kempton and Cabery, exclusively in Rogers Township.
Vision Energy was initially planning a 307-turbine wind farm covering portions of northern Ford County, western Iroquois County, eastern Livingston County and southern Kankakee County, with a total generating capacity of around 400 megawatts. Special-use permits for the project were first approved in 2008 in all but Livingston County; the permits were then extended in 2011 for another three years, through Nov. 10, 2014.
Today, Livingston County is no longer involved in the project, according to Greg Perkinson, Ford County’s highway engineer. As a result, the number of turbines expected to be involved has been reduced, Perkinson said. The project is now about 350 megawatts, he said.
The K4 Wind Farm was the first wind farm to receive a special-use permit in Ford County. Since then, permits have been issued for Houston-based BP Alternative Energy’s Ford Ridge Wind Farm, a 67-turbine wind farm near Sibley and Gibson City; and Chicago-based E.On Climate & Renewable North America’s 94-turbine Pioneer Trail Wind Farm, built in fall 2011 near Paxton. The BP project received a special-use permit extension in 2011 — through November 2015 — at the same time as Vision Energy did.
Meanwhile, the Ford County Planning Commission will meet at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14, to consider a special-use permit application for the Dogtown Wind Project, a proposed wind farm that would feature up to 49 turbines and comprise 6,136 acres of farmland near Paxton.
Vision Energy’s road-use agreement has already been approved by the Kankakee County Board and is expected to be up for approval in both Ford and Iroquois counties in April. The agreement is identical for each county, Perkinson said.
All of the townships highway commissioners for the townships involved have already approved the agreement, Perkinson added.
The agreement ensures county and township roads are returned to their original or better condition following construction of the wind farm.
Most the roads in Ford County that are covered by the agreement are township roads, Perkinson said. The only exception is about eight to 10 miles of county-owned roads.
“It’s going to give us better roads than we have now, with pretty good service life for them, too,” Perkinson said. He said township and county roads are usually built to last 20 years without any major repair, “and that’s what the wind farm’s going to give us when they leave.”
In addition to repairing and upgrading roads used to build the wind farm, the agreement requires Vision Energy to have all drainage structures — including bridges and culverts — inspected to confirm they can handle the weight of the heavy equipment and materials being hauled to turbine sites.
If the inspection is not done as required, the firm will be responsible for either upgrading culverts at their own cost or use “jump bridges” that span across existing bridges so the existing ones are not used.
Vision Energy must also pay an administrative fee — equal to 6 percent of the estimated costs necessary to upgrade any roads to handle expected weight loads during construction — to Ford County’s highway department.
The townships will also receive a “lump-sum payment” that is based on the megawatt nameplate capacity of the wind farm.
“It’s going to be good for the townships,” Perkinson said.
Perkinson said the road-use agreement is “set up entirely different” than the one negotiated and approved in 2011 for E.On Climate & Renewables’ Pioneer Trail Wind Farm. Among other differences, E.On’s agreement required the firm to pay a fee to the townships of $20,000 for each mile of township road used, rather than based on the megawatt nameplate capacity of the wind farm.
Perkinson said he thinks the agreement with E.On “worked out real well.
“We’re quite happy with what they left us with,” he said. “We’ve got a lot better (road) base, and we’ve got wider roads than we had before in the townships.”