FREEPORT – Attorneys Monday debated the merits of a homeowner protection plan for the two wind farms proposed for the area at a meeting of the Stephenson County Planning and Development Committee.
At issue Monday was a draft version of the plan, which is designed to set up terms by which the wind-farm companies would compensate adjacent homeowners who experience a loss in property value due to the wind towers.
After discussing the plan with attorneys representing the wind-farm companies and objectors to the project, the committee voted Monday to lay the issue over until next month’s meeting. Jeff Mikkelsen, chairman of the committee, recommended committee members take a month to review the draft version of the plan, and also to consider amendments offered by various parties.
At the next meeting – set for 6:30 p.m. March 5 – the committee may approve a final version of the plan or may decide more study is needed, officials said.
In November, the County Board approved the special-use zoning applications that will allow two companies to establish wind farms in this area. The projects include EcoGrove Wind LLC, a wind farm proposed for a site northwest of Lena by Freeport-based EcoEnergy LLC, a division of The Morse Group, and Lancaster Wind Farm LLC, a farm proposed for the Dakota area by Navitas Energy of Minneapolis.
The companies will have to meet a number of requirements before building permits will be allowed, including the homeowner protection plan and numerous others.
In its current form, the plan only covers homes that are within 2,000 feet of a wind tower, but this figure has not yet been finalized, officials said. According to the plan, the loss of property value would only be compensated if the homeowner were to sell their home. If a home sells for less than 110 percent of its fair cash value as reflected on the 2007 tax bill, the wind-farm company in question would make up the difference for the homeowner, the document states. The plan also includes guidelines related to setbacks and other aspects of the project.
At Monday’s meeting, Steve Cox, an attorney representing Lancaster Wind Farm, explained the proposed plan to committee members. He said the document is fair as it attempts to prevent a “catastrophic loss” in property values for homeowners.
“It was designed to meet the direction that the County Board gave for a homeowner protection plan,” Cox said after Monday’s meeting.
Critics of the wind farm projects have questioned whether the plan, in its current state, adequately protects homeowners. Concerns have been raised about how the fair cash value of homes will be determined, that the plan only provides for compensation if the sale of a home occurs, and that some homes won’t be covered that aren’t near a wind tower but are close to the site of a proposed substation.
Rick Porter, an attorney representing more than 25 landowners objecting to the wind farms, brought up several concerns related to the plan at Monday’s meeting. He said his clients will not agree to a plan that, among other things, grants the wind-farm companies a right of first refusal related to the sale of properties.
“This is the most ridiculous purported property value guarantee plan I have ever seen,” Porter said after the meeting. “And I don’t believe it has any precedent whatsoever from any source.”
According to the plan, the wind-farm company would have the first chance to purchase property from a landowner wishing to sell, officials said. The reason for this requirement, company officials say, is to avoid having to compensate landowners who sell their property for a price far below the fair cash value.
Cox said this requirement is only for those who want to participate in the plan and receive property-value compensation.
“If they want to participate in the plan and they want to trigger the possibility of payment or benefits under the plan, then they have to comply with all the steps,” Cox said. “But if they don’t want to participate, they can opt out at any time.”
The wind-farm projects have already generated more than $150,000 in application fee revenue for the county, some of which will be used to cover costs related to the initiative, officials said. The wind farms are also expected to provide benefits such as additional property tax revenue, the possible construction of new roads, and permit fee revenue, officials said.
Some have questioned whether this area’s wind strength is sufficient for these projects to turn a profit. Kevin Lindquist, a senior project developer for Navitas, said his company has conducted numerous studies of the site of their proposed farm and have been satisfied with the results.
However, Navitas will not be releasing specific data from these studies as the company considers the information “proprietary,” Lindquist said. He said Navitas officials would not invest millions of dollars into a project like this if they did not believe it would be profitable. EcoEnergy officials also said they were keeping such data confidential as it would give competitors information on the company’s production costs.
By Travis Morse
Published: Monday, February 5, 2007 10:49 PM CST
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