What's the commotion surrounding the wind farms?
By BRANDON LaCHANCE
WEST BROOKLYN – If you've driven down a country road in northern Illinois in LaSalle or Lee county, there is a good possibility you've seen construction happening at a wind farm.
Maybe you saw a crane lifting a propeller, better known as a blade.
Maybe you saw the formation of a dust cloud from a base falling over.
It's quite possible you didn't even leave your home but you heard and felt a large kaboom.
All three are evidence that Leeward Renewable Energy, LLC is repowering its GSG farm just north of Mendota.
“Our GSG project started operating in 2007 to produce renewable energy,” said Kevin Thornton, the public affairs manager for Leeward, who has worked in the energy industry for 35 years. “After a certain amount of time, we'll start to replace the wind turbines because there is new technology or they're getting older. We're in the process of replacing every single one of them. They take all the old ones down and replace them with new turbines.
“The turbines are newer and more efficient than the previous turbines. One of the great things about repowering is that 95 percent of the blades are being recycled. They're made of fiberglass, wood, and other materials that can be recycled and reused.”
In a Linkedin post, Leeward stated the 102 blades from the original wind turbines are being removed and recycled, keeping 612 tons of blades out of landfills. Approximately 140-foot-long blades are cut into smaller pieces then sent to REGEN Fiber in Iowa to be processed and used as reinforcement fiber to increase the strength and durability of concrete and mortar applications.
The repowering process is called a repower because although the equipment of the windmill is brand new, the connection points and lines where energy is stored and transferred are the same.
The construction crew began work in spring of 2023 and are scheduled to be done by spring of 2024.
Kyle Rex, a Mendota resident who is the Leeward plant manager in West Brooklyn, says the energy output is going to increase quite considerably when the repower is complete.
“It's a huge efficiency gain. The old rotor diameter was 87 meters and the new ones are 140 meters,” Rex said. “With surface area, you can produce more energy at lower wind speeds. Overall, we'll basically triple the annual energy output with fewer machines.
“Prior to the repower GSG had 40 turbines. After the repower it'll have 26 and it'll generate three times the amount of energy annually. I've heard two names for the GSG project, God's Sustaining Gift and God's Saving Grace, but I go with God's Sustaining Gift.”
The fewer installed turbines makes GSG the smaller of Leeward's two windmill farms in the area as it also operates the Mendota Hills Windfarm, which has 29 turbines.
Thornton, who lives in Charlotte but has his office in Texas, is well knowledgeable about the importance and influence of renewable energy.
“First of all, it's producing admission free energy. They contribute to the state's sustainable energy goals,” Thornton said. “It also has a significant economic impact on the county. It increases tax dollars. During construction, there are probably 300 workers that are hired and we try to hire locally as much as we can. They stay at hotels and shop and eat at local establishments. Overall, there is an economic impact. We're also very strong in our community involvement. We're supporting Reimagine Mendota and other local causes.
“It's like having a car. You have to upgrade and utilize technology because efficiency is so important for a number of reasons. You want to produce as much clean energy as you can. When the technology is there and available, we upgrade.”