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5/18/2008 5:06:00 PM
Wind provides the power for 87 windmills in Benton County
Spaced more than a half mile apart, huge blades that are part of a windfarm dominate the landscaspe in rural Newton County last week. (Michael McArdle/STNG)
Spaced more than a half mile apart, huge blades that are part of a windfarm dominate the landscaspe in rural Newton County last week. (Michael McArdle/STNG)
By the numbers

How high: The windmills in Benton County are 265 feet high from the base to the center of the blades. Each blade, called a rotor, is 135 feet long. When a blade is pointing straight up, the entire structure is 397 feet high.

How far: Windmills slow the wind down by capturing some of the wind speed to turn each rotor. To make sure each mill gets a full dose of wind, they are spaced at 1,200 feet away from one another.

How many: There are 87 windmills operating in northwest Benton County.

How much: The 130 megawatts of electricity generated by the 87 windmills is enough to power 43,000 homes for a year.


KENTLAND -- It's hard to imagine that a 400-foot-tall steel structure standing in the middle of a placid farm field could seem inconspicuous.

But the multimegawatt, towering windmills scattered across 10,000 acres of northwest Benton County almost pull it off.

Residents of Benton County -- which lies two counties south of Lake County -- seem accepting of the mills, if a touch indifferent. Ask them what they think about the 87 giants standing guard over their horizons and you'll likely get a "they're fine," or "they're interesting," in response.

"It changes the landscape a bit," is what Larry Reeves, a retired Kentland resident, conceded.

Kentland lies just over the border in Newton County, but is still within view of the towering turbines.

"I think the most interesting part was watching them go up," he said.

Jeremy Hall, a resident of rural Benton County near the Illinois state line, takes a more amicable tone toward the windmills. Living about a mile from the nearest one, Hall said he likes to come outside sometimes and just watch the blades -- called rotors -- whir. He likes it when the winds change and the rotors turn after them like a weather vane.

"My father-in-law sits out here and just looks at 'em," Hall said, gesturing to his father-in-law's favorite chair on the patio. "I don't know what he's trying to see, but he just looks at one, and then (turns and) looks at another."

Mickie Gasch works at the Jennie E. Caldwell Retirement Home on the northeast corner of Earl Park. The east side of the stately two-story building faces miles of open, gently rolling country, along with good views of about a dozen of the windmills.

Gasch remembers a lightning storm last week that lit up the night sky.

"It was gorgeous," she said. "I'd never seen that kind of color before."

Gasch describes with awe how the lightning repeatedly licked the huge towers, which are constructed so as to disperse the electric charge away from its sensitive equipment. In many cases, she said, the lightning would hit the tower and bounce sideways to strike a neighboring windmill in a barrage of brilliant color.

"It was just unbelievable how beautiful it was."

Regional stimulus

While the windmills provide striking scenery, area residents hope the windmills will also offer some needed economic stimulus.

Benton has the fourth-smallest population among the state's 92 counties -- and it's shrinking. It has lost 6.5 percent of its population in the past seven years, falling to barely more than 8,800 people.

But its flat landscape has a seemingly perpetual breeze, aided by wind off Lake Michigan. The wind is magnified when it swoops down off one of the high ridge lines that carve their way across the countryside, all of which makes the county an ideal candidate for Indiana's first, and soon to be second, utility-sized wind farm.

By the end of the year, the county will have 305 windmills, as 222 windmills near Fowler are expected to join the 87 already operating.

The 87 windmills already functioning are owned jointly by Orion Energy, based in Oakland, Calif., and Vision Energy LLC of Cincinnati.

They went online last month, and the $250 million investment is expected to generate 130 megawatts of electricity a year, enough to power 43,000 homes.

Duke Energy, Indiana's largest electric utility, will purchase the lion's share of that power.

BP Alternative Energy Inc., along with Dominion, is building the 222 windmills near Fowler. They represent the first phase in what is planned to be a 450-megawatt wind farm, powering nearly 150,000 homes.

"When they get done, it's going to look like Disneyland, you know. They're going to be everywhere," said Lloyd Varnado, who owns and operates Lloyd's Barber Shop in downtown Fowler.

But Varnado is not complaining. He has seen an increase in business in his shop from the construction workers and engineers who have blanketed the area since construction began in February.

Owner of a few rental properties in town, he's seen a benefit there as well. "This has always been a depressed area for rent," he said. "Not now."

Construction is expected to be completed on the 222 windmills by the end of the year.

Related Stories:
• Northwest Indiana steel mills may tap wind power
• IPL planning wind energy farm with 67 turbines in Benton County
• BP chief, politicians spin Benton County wind farm
• 'The good, the bad and the great' in Benton County
• Wind turbines could blow into Lake Michigan steel mills
• Clinton County looks to join list of wind farm locations
• Vectren getting wind power from Benton County Wind Farm

Copyright 2016, Chicago Tribune

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