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Happy neighbour in Illinois

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Befriending both a nuclear power station and a military helicopter facility was all part of the development work for Invenergy's 99 MW Grand Ridge wind plant in Illinois. Not only did Exelon, the owner of the 1200 MW LaSalle Nuclear Power Plant, lease Invenergy land for some of the turbines, a no-turbine corridor was agreed with a nearby National Guard Training facility to allow free passage for its Chinook helicopters.

Commissioning of the wind farm, made up of GE 1.5 MW turbines, finishes this month. It ties into a 138 kV line originating at the plant that was not fully utilised by the nuclear facility. "It's a perfect annual report photo for Exelon to have a wind turbine plant in the background," says Invenergy's Joel Link.

The proximity of a military establishment could have been a major stumbling block for Grand Ridge, given the nationwide concerns about the possibility for interference of radar signals by whirling wind turbine rotors, but this was not the case. "They were very co-operative. I think the military has been bashed because of radar and all that, but ultimately it has worked out very well," says Link. The corridor makes for a scenic entry route for the helicopter crews, he adds.

At a distance of only 48 kilometres west of the Chicago Metro area, Grand Ridge is by far the closest wind farm to a big city in the Midwest, says Invenergy's Barnaby Dinges. It is visible to the south off Interstate 80, the nation's main east-west highway. For locals not already accustomed to seeing the many new wind projects going up in the region, "Grand Ridge sends a strong message that major wind farm activity has arrived in the Midwest," Dinges adds.

The 99 MW is the first of a three phase project and the next 150 MW with 100 turbines is mostly approved and will follow shortly. Further expansion is slated for following years. There is no power purchase agreement in place for the electricity generated, which Invenergy has chosen to sell directly into the PJM wholesale electricity market at current prices. A hedge deal is in place to provide financial protection against fluctuating market prices. Renewable energy credits are being sold separately.

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