It took a series of 13 hearings that began last November, but initial approval finally has been given to a controversial wind farm proposed by a Chicago company.
The McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals late Thursday voted 6-0 to send the request for a special-use permit for Invenergy Wind LLC’s White Oak Wind Energy Center to the full County Board on March 20.
Phil Dick, director of building and zoning, said Friday the ZBA approved the request after hearing from dozens upon dozens of residents and experts who spoke in opposition and in support of the wind farm.
Dick said more than 300 people attended some of the first meetings.
“I think it was a controversial issue that required a lot of people to participate,” said Dick, who is not a voting board member.
The 100 turbines would be scattered across more than 12,200 acres near Carlock west of Interstate 39 and north and east of Interstate 74. The $250 million project, which would extend into a small portion of Woodford County, could produce enough electricity for 40,000 homes.
The ZBA decision was met with disappointment by those who rallied against the project.
“Of course we’re disappointed,” said Cindy Lorimor, the rural Hudson woman who helped form Information is Power, a grass-roots group of western McLean County and eastern Woodford County residents that formed after the ZBA in November continued the wind farm public hearings until January. While the group believes wind energy is a viable option, it maintains large-scale wind farms should be considered for less populated areas, said Lorimor, who attended Thursday’s hearing in addition to all of the previous meetings.
“Right now we plan to follow what happens at the County Board,” said Lorimor, who would have three turbines within three-quarters of a mile of her home if the project is completed.
“In White Oak Township, we’ll have 70 of the 100 turbines located there,” she said Friday. “We’ll be totally engulfed.”
Lorimor maintains there would be about 450 homes directly under the turbines or within the perimeter of the entire project.
Kevin Smith, senior vice president of development for Invenergy, attended several of the public hearings.
He said Friday that Invenergy was “pleased with the decision. We think it’s a very good project, and I would hope people who attended (the hearings) thought we did our homework.”
While the drawn-out process of numerous public hearings on the permit isn’t uncommon, Smith said it’s not usually what is encountered.
For example, the company has proposed building the Bishop Hill Wind Energy Center in Knox and Henry counties that would consist of 532 turbines. The $1.6 billion wind farm would generate 800 megawatts of electricity and is currently the largest proposed wind farm in the world. While Knox County hasn’t acted on the permit yet, Henry County officials approved the permit request with no opposition.
“Not one person spoke against the project … that was a relatively easy process,” Smith said.
That wasn’t the case in McLean County, he said. “What it really comes down to is there was a small opposition group (in McLean County), and they chose to hire an attorney and draw out the process.”
The company now must look forward to the same process in Woodford County if the McLean County Board agrees with the recommendation from its ZBA board. According to the Woodford County Zoning office, a public hearing on a special use permit has been scheduled for 6 p.m. April 25 at the Congerville Elementary School.
Dick, the McLean County zoning official, said the County Board will be asked to consider some stipulations, of which the most significant is the setback from property lines for nonparticipating landowners. That setback will be 1.1 times the height of a tower, which amounts to 440 feet, he said.
Other stipulations deal with road improvements, cable and Internet disruption, safety at bus stops and conservation practices. Another stipulation maintains any water needed at the construction sites cannot be pulled from existing wells.
By Lisa Coon
Of The Journal Star
10 February 2007
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