By Chelsea Watkins
A renewable resource company is analyzing the area for a potential wind energy site. EON North America, with locations in both Chicago and Austin, Texas, has set up an office in Alexander, IL. Lael H. Eason, senior development manager, is excited to share EON’s potential plans to place an estimated 44-91 wind turbines on farms in Morgan County, all located southeast of Jacksonville, that would be part of a 200 megawatt wind farm. The wind turbines would be on easements from partnerships with multiple local farms, which allows them to be spread out for efficiency. This is expected to power 50,000 homes.
EON has a wind farm in Macon County, Illinois that came online in December 2017; Radford’s Run boasts 305 megawatts and 139 wind turbines. They also own and maintain two other Illinois locations in Iroquois County and Ford County, which have been online since January 2012.
EON’s potential Morgan County project expects to bring $35 million in tax revenue to the area, along with a projected $30 million in local spending throughout construction. The potential project will also pay an estimated $30-$35 million in lease revenue to local farmers in the area over the next 30 years. Eason discussed the company’s commitment to supporting the local community if the project is activated, through hiring local and sourcing local materials to the highest extent possible with all other materials being made elsewhere in the United States. At this stage in the project, EON is analyzing to see if the project is viable in this location and there are no commitments made.
A benefit to local citizens includes several road upgrades that would be done at no cost to taxpayers. In Macon County, more than 80 miles of roads were upgraded and repaired, saving taxpayers $20 million. Eason discussed EON’s commitment to compassion for the local agriculture as well, mentioning the compassion they have for any crop damages that may occur during their potential construction as well as concerns about disrupting the tiling of farmland. As a company, there are always available provisions for repairing tiling and compensating loss, even years after the construction has been completed if it is found to be due to an incident incurred by their construction or equipment.
Eason talked about reasons the Morgan County area was chosen, such as initial studies with good wind resource, the new Ameren line being local to the proposed area, conducive land and the Morgan County Zoning ordinance for wind energy. Eason also has personal ties to the community, as his parents live in Jacksonville and his younger brother attended Jacksonville High School (JHS). He is committed to making sure that citizens feel heard and understood because he knows how valuable those connections are in our small community. EON also continues to oversee the wind energy project as a long-term partner to the community. Their experienced team understands how to minimize impact to local land with the commitment that any land effected will be restored back to or better than the original state, and Eason mentioned that EON was the first company in the United States to do this. Not only does EON plan to use local labor during the construction phase, but they hope to have long-term staff locally that will maintain the equipment and staff the Alexander office.
As a Veteran himself, Eason discussed the company’s hiring of veterans. Ten to 15 percent of EON North America’s workforce is comprised of Veterans. Safety is also paramount with this company, which will provide training to local firefighters on handling any issues regarding the wind turbines.
EON hosted an open house inviting anyone with questions, comments, or concerns to discuss with Eason himself and other company representatives. This was held at the EON office at 101 W. Wabash Ave. in Alexander on Saturday, September 22. There are plans to hold more informational sessions, open houses, and town hall-style meetings in the future in order to gain an understanding of what the local community’s concerns and questions may be. Eason will be available at the Ferris wheel in Jacksonville’s Community Park on September 30 from 4-6 p.m. during the Rotary’s free rides. EON donated $2,500 to the Rotary’s tree initiative as well as $1,000 to the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Steak Fry. While the project is still in the analyzation phase with no commitments being made yet, the goal would be to have the farm operational by the end of 2020. Eason’s current goal is to provide transparent and open dialogue with the community. Lael Eason can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at (312) 623-4575.