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Turbines No Trouble on South Side

By JoshMogerman in News on Aug 28, 2011 8:15PM

With the all-to-wall east coast hurricane hype everyone is thinking about wind today---but it has been on our minds for months, thanks to the spate of big standalone wind turbines that have popped up on the South Side recently. There is the giant turbine at the new Testa Produce facility near 47th at Racine. IIT has installed a sizable turbine at 31st and Federal to test some new technical design elements. We hear there are a few in the 7th and 10th wards on the far South Side. And from downtown buildings in the southwest end of the loop we have seen a new turbine rise west of the Dan Ryan in what looks like Pilsen, though we have not been able to find it when driving in the neighborhood (but surely some of you have seen it---that sucker looks big!). But there don’t seem to be any on the North Side…so we called City Hall to see what gives.

Despite what we have seen, there is not a growing wind trend in town, but the zoning department is on top of the issue. Staffers had been working on building code updates to better address wind energy production in the City before the mayoral transition. Current codes incorporate best practices used throughout the state (just drive south I-55 to the growing farms near Odell and you will see there is a lot to draw from) with local experience on cell sites and meteorological towers to deal with issues of setbacks, ice and shadows. In Chicago, large turbines are limited to specific manufacturing corridors to avoid problems with neighboring residential areas and migratory bird pathways (which is why you don’t see big turbines downtown---just the less efficient vertical helixes). Those issues are part of the reason that the City has focused on more passive solar and smaller scale wind projects. And why areas like the Ravenswood industrial corridor cannot support large turbines (too many nearby homes).

We popped over to the Testa facility today to find the turbine humming along. While it’s a bit intimidating to see a 100+ foot blade bearing down on you, we were shocked at how quiet the operation is, even with wind pushing it at a decent clip. Yeah, we know that the Windy City moniker has nothing to do with meteorology, but these things strike us as a pretty exciting addition to Chicago’s landscape. Plus, it is refreshing to have a feel-good local energy story that doesn’t involve contentious battles over rate hikes or dangerous pollution concerns.