Photo Source: Invenergy
The City of Lexington, Illinois, is the picture of small-town America. Dubbed the “heart of the heartland” and situated between Chicago and St. Louis in McLean County, the town of just under 2,000 boasts a vibrant business district, parks and churches, and now, a wind farm.
Launching operations in Dec. 2020, the 250 MW, 100-turbine Blooming Grove Wind Energy Center, developed by Invenergy, generates enough electricity to power about 69,000 homes each year. The project supported approximately 500 jobs during the 12-month construction period and will invest nearly $120 million in the local community through property taxes, landowner payments, wages, and benefits.
Invenergy entered into two separate Virtual Power Purchase Agreements (VPPAs) with Verizon and global manufacturer Saint-Gobain North America for the output of the Blooming Grove project. Edison Energy worked with Saint-Gobain on the deal to help them on their journey to reduce CO2 emissions from their U.S. operations by 40 percent and overall carbon footprint in the U.S. by 21 percent.
Based in Chicago, Invenergy has successfully developed 190 clean energy projects totaling more than 29,000 MW.
“I think the community engagement and the engagement with landowners is what makes our projects go,” said Beth Conley, Vice President of Communications at Invenergy. “You have to identify who your key stakeholders are, whether that’s landowners, decision makers, business leaders, or suppliers, and it’s really all about conversation. It’s about going in and introducing yourself to the communities. People have lots of questions, so it’s making sure you have the time and space to answer those questions. I think that’s one of the things that makes us different as an owner and operator–we become a part of that community.”
Despite challenges presented by the Covid pandemic, construction of the Blooming Grove wind farm was able to continue, proving to be a lifeline for the local community.
“We were fortunate to be considered an essential business–certainly our operating projects are essential to keeping hospitals, schools, and everybody powered,” Conley said. “It was an adjustment for the development team because a lot of our conversations happen sitting across the table from landowners or going into a community meeting, so we shifted that. Our developers moved their conversations from kitchen tables to picnic tables, to a yard, or to the back of a truck. We wanted to have that human touch, which is really important to us.”
At the core of Invenergy’s clean energy projects is their mission to bring benefits to local communities. This means creating jobs and boosting the local economy, says Conley.
“A lot of our projects are in rural communities,” she said. “In addition to agriculture, our project might be one of the only things that keeps the economy buzzing, keeping people employed and keeping people buying goods and services. When you think about renewable development projects, these are major infrastructure projects and there’s a big pipeline of these projects. That is what keeps people working for a long time. They take years to build and having that pipeline and people seeing that there are projects to build in the future is what keeps it going.”
John Franklin serves on Lexington’s City Council, a local landowner, farmer, and supporter of the wind project who entered into a land lease agreement with Invenergy.
Franklin says his interest in hosting the wind farm was its ability to drive positive change in the community.
“Obviously, the income it generates is a big thing, and the fact that it helps contribute to clean energy and to reducing the number of pollutants,” he said. “You also throw in the property tax assessment and what it gives to the local school. We have a farm that has multiple members and several different generations and not everybody was in favor of the project. But I think the fact that everybody gets a little extra money and the feeling that they were doing something to reduce the impact on the environment made a difference.”
But perhaps the most touted benefit has been the project’s impact on Lexington’s local school district.
“We have a very small school district–it probably only has 500 students in K-12,” Franklin said. “The turbines generate over $900,000 a year in tax revenue just to the school district, so it was a huge benefit to the school. The project took the school district from having a tough time to being in good shape. The school is now financially stable, and they’ve got a stream of income. And that’s good for the town because a lot of people want to move to Lexington because it has an independent school district and smaller classes. The city makes some money on the property tax revenue from the turbines, and the school is one of the big drivers for Lexington to continue to be an attractive place to live.”
The boon to Lexington speaks to Invenergy’s mission of helping customers meet sustainability goals while also benefiting communities.
“It’s the big picture of less emissions, so we’re part of this global strategy to help the world achieve those goals,” Conley said. “But it’s also cleaner air and water for the communities where our projects are. Our approach has always been to invest and reinvest in the communities where we have projects, and we are starting to look more broadly at the kinds of partnerships that we can engage in to help meet those goals. Our employees are ultimately the people who operate our projects, who live where our projects are. We’ll be there for a long time, so we want to be a good partner and a good community member where these projects are built. Our brand, our name, our people–we’re a part of the community. We’re not just here visiting.”
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