Central Missouri residents consider adding wind farm

Sunday, February 7, 2010 | 4:01 p.m. CST; updated 8:10 p.m. CST, Sunday, February 7, 2010

COLE CAMP — Some central Missouri farmers are considering a new crop: wind.

More than 50 farmers and property owners from northern Benton County have agreed to explore whether to bring a 300-megawatt wind farm to the area.

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The group met this past week at Cole Camp High School to consider building wind turbines in parts of northern Benton County. More than 50 farmers, who own nearly 12,000 acres in the county, agreed to solicit proposals from companies to conduct preliminary site evaluations.

Mark Chamberlin, a dairy and chicken farmer, began looking into the idea more than five years ago. He told the Sedalia Democrat he was interested in potential wind energy production after viewing studies that showed wind levels in northern Benton County were similar to those near recently developed wind farms in northwest Missouri.

"I live on a ridge and it's always windy, and I knew there had to be a way to harvest that wind," Chamberlin said.

The preliminary proposal includes the construction of 100 to 125 wind turbines in the northern part of the county, which would generate up to 300 megawatts of electricity.

"We're now at the point where we are sinking a lot of time, money and effort into it, and we wanted to see if the community is interested," said Luke Jernigan, Chamberlin's partner on the proposal.

One company has already visited the county to examine potential sites, and two more are scheduled to visit in the coming weeks, Jernigan said.

Irv Jensen, a representative from Benton County Development Corporation, encouraged the property owners to form a limited liability corporation so they can work together to bargain. He said the group would likely have to contract with a company to conduct a one-year study on potential wind power generation and eventually construct the turbines. That contractor would then sell the power generated from the wind farm to a utility company, he said.

Some attendees asked about the potential impact on their land, financial benefits for making their property available for consideration and how long it would take to build the turbines.

Although the impact on the environment and wildlife is typically insignificant with wind farms, Jensen noted it would change the landscape of the county.

He said the economic impact for those willing to include portions of their land to be considered for use in the wind farm would depend on how much power could be generated. The potential gains will become more concrete after wind and environmental studies are completed.

Jernigan said other wind energy operations have netted as much as $12,000 a year for those whose property housed a turbine. He said the Benton County farmers would have a better negotiating position as a group.

"This would create a lot of jobs for the area and invest a lot of money," Jernigan said. "Even if you don't get a turbine or transmission lines through your farm, you could still get paid if you're in the group."

Nearly everyone voted to move forward with the plan. They intend to meet again Feb. 18.

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