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Oakwood Hills looks to Minooka for comparison of natural gas plants

MINOOKA – About 70 miles from Minooka, the village of Oakwood Hills is working with a natural gas power plant on whether the plant would be a good fit there and is looking at the Minooka plant for the pros and cons.

While opposition continues to flare over a proposed $450 million natural gas power plant in Oakwood Hills, the 13-year presence of a similar plant in Minooka has had little effect on nearby residents.

Oakwood Hills residents have raised Issues such as potential air pollution, effects on groundwater, noise levels and property values in protest to the project.

Project engineer for the proposed plant Conrad Anderson has said the Minooka plant, Kendall Energy, located at 1401 County Line Road, is comparable to the Oakwood Hills project.

"They're both combined cycle plants … but the one in Minooka is much bigger," Anderson said, adding in terms of output, the Minooka plant is roughly 1,200-megawatts while the proposed Oakwood Hills plant is 430-megawatts. "Noise levels should be roughly comparable."

Standing no more than a couple hundred feet away, the plant produces a light "whir," but on Wednesday it was almost inaudible under the sound of blowing wind.

Built in 2001, the Minooka plant has been a non-issue for the most part, said Steve Thornton, building and zoning officer for Minooka.

"It's so isolated," Thornton said. "I've never heard any complaints and I'm sure I would've because a lot of that stuff winds up coming to me."

It's non-disturbing nature in terms of effects on residents may be attributed to it's isolation, though, he added.

"It's out there, and you never hear a peep out of them."

But the plant does have neighbors, namely Logan Roberts, who lives and farms about a half-mile away from it.

Despite the close proximity, the 28-year Minooka resident said it doesn't bother him and never really has.

"Beyond being an eyesore, there's no more traffic, no noticeable pollution," Roberts said, later calling the plant a "good neighbor."

He'll hear noises periodically, he added, but the plant doesn't produce disruptive noise on a daily basis.

It should be noted while Roberts lives a half mile away from the Minooka plant, the proposed Oakwood Hills site is about a quarter of a mile away from a school building, and about 600 feet from the nearest residencies, according to Anderson.

Next to Roberts lives Mark Wunderlich, another longtime Minooka resident. 

Living in what used to be his father's house, Mark, and his brother, Jeff, who does not live in the house, echoed Roberts' sentiments.

"You really don't notice it," Mark said. "Some people think it's an eyesore, though."

"Every community is going to be a little different," Jeff added. "But as far as its effect on us, it's been minimal."

While daily drawbacks are nominal for some nearby Minooka residents, certain benefits are not necessarily there either, village finance director John Harrington said.

What should've been a boost in property tax revenue has diminished to nothing after the plant was revalued years after it was initially built.

"A couple years down the road, the owners said [some plant components] should be considered more equipment than infrastructure so the Kendall County Property Tax Board basically said the valuation should've been significantly lower," Harrington explained. "Instead of having to refund cash, we've entered into an agreement … over the next [seven or eight] years, we don't receive property tax from them."

Anderson said that was not a foreseeable situation for the Oakwood Hills Energy Center as the property tax estimates already exclude the components that are not considered part of the "permanent structure."

The estimated revenue to be generated from annual real estate taxes for McHenry County is $750,000, he added.

Job-wise, Thornton said the plant's effect has been minimal as it likely doesn't employ more than 30 people.

Anderson said the number of employees in Oakwood Hills would be comparable, but 250 jobs would be created during the two-year construction period.

When it comes down to making a decision about such a project, Harrington summed it up simply.

"Does it fit into what the village wants to do?"

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