Opposition grows for Oakwood Hills power plant

OAKWOOD HILLS – Opposition is quickly growing to a proposed $450 million, natural gas power plant in Oakwood Hills.

More than 280 people have formed a Facebook group, called Stop the Oakwood Hills Power Plant, while the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County have two meetings this week with representatives from the Sierra Club, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois State Nature Preserves Commission and other organizations to gather facts before taking an official stance.

The 430-megawatt, natural gas plant would be located along Valley View Road near the village hall, which project engineer Conrad Anderson called an ideal location because of the already existing power and natural gas lines for the plant to make a connection.

But it also would need about 1.5 million gallons of water a day to operate. And while the majority of water would come from water treatment facilities, some would be drawn from a deep-water aquifer, worrying some residents about future water supply and effects on the Fox River.

Residents also brought up concerns about property values, the proximity to the school and pollution.

Chris Reining, who started the Facebook group, said he was inspired to do so after receiving strong support over the weekend for his petition to stop the plant, including from his neighbor Mike Riley.

Riley, who has lived in Oakwood Hills for 34 years, said there is no reason a village the size of Oakwood Hills should pursue such a large energy project.

“It’s much better than coal fire or some of the alternatives, but people feel it has been kept a deep, dark secret,” Riley said. “I hate to be the ‘not in my backyard’ guy, but that’s exactly what this is. A small village like ours does not need a plan of this sort.”

Riley said the project and lack of information on it reminds him of a potential housing development proposed for the area about 17 years ago. He said residents successfully rallied to prevent that project and believed it could be done again.

The pushback against the project already has caused some contention as Riley said he and others were told by village police to remove signs opposing the project from their front yards and windows because of village ordinances.

Nancy Schietzelt, president of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, said the group wanted to avoid “knee-jerk” reactions to the project and would consult with other environmental organizations to prepare for the meetings about the project on July 22 and July 24.

Schietzelt said the group wanted to ask the hard questions at both events. An open house will be from 4 to 8 p.m. July 22 at the Holiday Inn in Crystal Lake, while a zoning board hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 24 at the same location.

“We truly are in that information gathering stage so I can’t tell you a stance we have right now,” Schietzelt said. “We want to make sure we have all our ducks in a row.”

Project leaders say the plant is needed as more coal plants continue to shut down and leave northeastern Illinois with an energy shortage. It is a crucial backup to wind and solar energy that can fall short of the demand at times, developers said.

The plant also would be cleaner and more efficient than the peaker plants people compare it to, according to the project managers.

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