Nearly a decade ago, Roger Wikoff started to hear rumblings that a wind energy company was contacting residents about a potential Macon County wind farm project.
A longtime supporter of wind energy, Wikoff decided to reach out to the company and express interest in having a turbine on his family's 200 acres of land west of Maroa.
On June 27, Wikoff was among more than 100 landowners, local leaders and energy company representatives gathered to mark the culmination of that effort: 139 turbines stretching into the sky in northwestern Macon County, generating energy for a grid that spans 13 states.
"My wife and I were always in favor of this," said Wikoff, who has one turbine on his family's property. "Wind farms are not going to be the salvation for everyone, but it's a real good opportunity to use the natural resources that we have."
Radford's Run Wind Farm has been operating since December, but officials from operating company E.ON said the commemoration offered a chance to celebrate its completion and to thank landowners and community members for welcoming them to the area.
E.ON leaders from the company's German headquarters and American subsidiaries were on hand for the event, which included a ribbon-cutting and a catered lunch.
"We've been working on this for a long time, and to be able to deliver on what we've been talking about for many years is a proud moment," said Brad King, E.ON's vice president of Midwest Development, who began contacting Macon County landowners in 2009. "Proud not only for us, but for the landowners and the community that has supported us."
The project was originally known as Twin Forks Wind Farm, but was changed last year to honor Mike Radford, a longtime employee who died from cancer. The company announced a $50,000 donation to Decatur Memorial Hospital's Cancer Care Institute.
'We are really supportive of the work those guys are doing, it's an impressive organization and they seem to be doing a lot of very innovative techniques to help people battle cancer," said Patrick Woodson, Chairman of E.ON North America. "We got to tour it a year ago, and it just seemed to be a perfect fit. To help them carry on that work, it seemed appropriate."
John Ridley, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Decatur Memorial Hospital, said the money will go toward educational programs and helping patients get into the correct treatment modalities.
Radford's Run is the largest single-phase wind farm built in Illinois and the largest wind farm built in the United States in 2017, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Energy generated by the wind farm will go into the PJM Interconnection, a massive grid spread throughout 13 states in the Midwest and East.
Over the next three decades, the wind farm is expected to generate $46 million in new property tax revenue, according to the original project application to the county. School districts would get the biggest increase in property tax revenue, but they would also see cuts to state aid based on the new money, making for a smaller net gain.
That money won't start coming in until 2019, as the timing of the construction will not allow the farm to be assessed for property tax purposes until next year.
Not everyone has welcomed the turbines.
Three dozen landowners filed a lawsuit in December 2015 against E.ON and members of the Macon County board in an attempt to stop the project. Along with questions about how the county notified residents about hearings on the wind farm's construction, plaintiffs have expressed concern about negative health effects that could be caused by the turbines. Reports have shown that shadow flickers and ultrasound emissions from the turbines can cause health problems.
Richard Porter, the Rockford-based attorney representing the landowners, said Wednesday afternoon that the litigation is still pending. No trial date has been set, but Porter said he was hopeful one could be set during a case management conference set for July 30.
"The case is still continuing," he said.
Woodson, King and Greg Elko, E.ON's senior development manager, all declined to comment on the matter, citing pending litigation.
Wikoff said he's heard the complaints, but he still supports the wind farm project. Along with the financial benefits for smaller municipalities like the Maroa Township, where Wikoff formerly worked, he said he's not bothered by turbines around his house.
"I like looking at them, especially with all the red lights blinking," he said. "I think they're really cool."
Source: Decatur Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/2N3VCxH
Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the (Decatur) Herald & Review.