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Aldermen not blown away by wind farm presentations

Evanston aldermen peppered two would-be wind farm developers with questions Monday night and then voted to meet again to consider who should be on a special committee to further research the concept.

The two developers proposed different technology solutions and different models for what the city would have to pay to place a renewable energy generating system out in Lake Michigan.

Luke Townsend of Off Grid Technologies

Luke Townsend, the corporation counsel for Off Grid Technologies, said the next step for the project would be to conduct a feasibility study for $1.8 million that the city would need to pay for.

He suggested creating a city-owned utility to run the plant, and noted that Springfield, Illinois’ capital city, operates its own electric utility.

Townsend, who said he lives in Evanston and has a son at Chute Middle School, said his firm would like to partner with the city to build the project.

Townsend said Off Grid hopes to build a plant to construct the magnetic levitation turbines that his company is proposing at a site on Chicago’s southeast side that would also supply the systems to other projects throughout the Great Lakes region because of its good access to water and rail transportation systems.

He said 60 companies around the world have been developing the vertical-turbine magnetic levitation technology, but conceded that so far only small scale prototypes have been built.

Lyle Harrison of Mercury Wind Energy

Lyle Harrison, the chief executive officer of Mercury Wind Energy, said his firm is prepared to cover the cost of feasability studies, which he estimated would cost $1.5 million.

Harrison, who’s proposing a more conventional turbine design, said a European manufacturer of the turbines is talking about building a plant in Illinois that would create 500 to 1,000 permanent jobs, but that if that project fell through, the turbines could be sourced from any of three plants owned by other manufacturers in the U.S. — with the equipment most easily delivered by rail from a plant in Colorado.

Harrison, an Evanston resident, said under his model his company would own the wind farm and would sell the power generated either to customers along the lakefront or to Commonwealth Edison.

He said the benefit to Evanstonians would be cheaper electric power costs — a savings he estimated to be about $100 a year to the average homeowner.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she wanted more information from the city’s finance staff to advise the council about whether the proposals make sense — how much residents would save and how much the project would cost the city.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said he wanted more specifics about financing from both developers — especially details about what they’re looking for from the city.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, proposed moving forward, as City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz proposed, to name a review committee with two representatives each from the city’s Environment Board, the Utilities Commission and the environmental group Citizens for a Greener Evanston.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she wanted to take time to think more about the composition of the review committee and search more broadly for people to be on it. She proposed referring the issue of the committee’s composition to the council’s Rules Committee, which holds its next meeting on Dec. 6. And the aldermen voted unanimously to do that.

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