At Issue: While power-generating wind farms have stirred controversy in other communities, Rail Splitter Wind Farm in Tazewell County has been a “good neighbor."
Local Impact: Rail Splitter produces about $526,000 in property tax revenue annually, shared by the county and taxing districts surrounding the farm.
Bob Betzelberger is familiar with two electricity-generating wind farms and knows the “vast difference” between them.
One casts shadows from its rotating turbine blades across a road leading to a church camp his family visits in Bureau County.
The flickering “almost makes you sick,” he said. “It seems (the turbines) are too close to the road."
The other is on and around Betzelberger’s farm south of Hopedale in Tazewell County’s Boynton Township, where he serves as township supervisor.
Over the eight years since it began operations, the Rail Splitter Wind Farm has been nothing but “a good neighbor” and beneficent tax revenue source, he said.
Its owner, EDP Renewables North America of Houston, Texas, was “very specific that they wouldn’t get closer than so many feet from roads and homes,” and kept that promise, said Betzelberger.
As a result, he’s heard no complaints from residents of the rural, sparsely populated township about noise, vibrations or shadows from Rail Splitter’s 38 turbines in Boynton, he said.
Neither have David Zimmerman or Robert Huston, county board chairman and sheriff, respectively, of Tazewell, where Rail Splitter stands as its only wind farm.
Another 29 Rail Splitter turbines straddle across Tazewell’s southern border into Logan County.
“Honestly, since it opened I haven’t heard one negative complaint,” Zimmerman said. “I can’t recall a single one,” said Huston.
Betzelberger, supervisor for five years, heard a few complaints at township board meetings in 2008 when EDP, then known as Horizon Wind Energy, proposed the wind farm, but they were about its cosmetics.
“Some people didn’t want an ugly turbine in their area,” he said. With a chuckle he recalled a story from his grandfather.
“He said people complained about those ugly wooden poles and wires along the roads” when wired electricity came to Boynton.
Betzelberger said he and other Boynton residents researched the brief history of wind farms across the country when Horizon approached the township. He doesn’t discount stories “about kids grinding their teeth” and other unhealthy symptoms that wind farm opponents have documented.
Still, “I ended up getting a turbine on my farm” that’s located about a half-mile from his house, he said. Another stands about the same distance away on a neighboring farm. Those distances “make a big difference,” he said.
“On the windiest days you can hear a little noise” from the machines. Yet, the sounds from vehicles on I-155, also about a half-mile east of his home, “is louder. That’s on the occasion there’s any noise” from the turbines, he said.
Betzelberger said he’s constrained by his contract with EDP, which competes with other wind farm companies, from disclosing how much rent he receives for his property’s turbine.
He and county Supervisor of Assessments Gary Twist, however, know how much property tax revenue Rail Splitter generates for the township and other local taxing districts, including schools and the county.
In all, it amounts to about $526,000 a year. Nearly $330,000 of that goes to Olympia Community Unit School District, located in McLean County but which takes in Tazewell County students at Olympia High School in Stanford. About $40,000 is collected for Delavan Grade School. Tazewell receives about $30,400 annually.
Boynton receives about $67,000, two-thirds of which go to its road and bridge maintenance fund. Horizon, however, has chipped in far more for the township’s roads.
Zimmerman said the company invested $1 million to improve Boynton’s roads in order to transport the heavy turbines and related equipment. “That helped the township tremendously,” he said. Betzelberger said Horizon also provides about $8,000 a year in additional fees for road maintenance.
According to Rail Splitter’s website, the wind farm produces 101 megawatts of electricity per year, enough to power 35,000 homes. EDP, a subsidiary of Energias de Portugal, has developed wind farms in eight other states besides Illinois.
Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin