Looking to take advantage of one of the windiest parts of the state, an energy company has cleared a hurdle in its plans to develop a La Salle County wind farm.
The County Zoning Board of Appeals is recommending to the County Board that special-use permits be approved for the construction of two temporary 197-foot wind towers on properties belonging to Grand Rapids landowners William and Norma Dooley and Frank and Carol Corrigan. The project developer is Invenergy Wind North American.
The board chose to add a time-frame stipulation of an option to renew the permits after two years, if necessary.
Invenergy representative Michael Arndt spoke to the zoning board on behalf of the Dooleys, who were requesting the special-use permit for a tower on their property near the southwest corners of East 23rd Road and North 23rd Road.
“There seems to be a misunderstanding about what we are asking the county’s approval to build,” he said.
The company is not asking to build a wind farm, but seeking approval to erect two temporary, bladeless wind towers that would hold unobtrusive meteorological testing equipment. One tower could be erected in one day by two people and would be removed just as easily if weather information proved a wind farm project would be successful in providing energy.
But for some Grand Ridge residents, that’s the sticking point. While none are against renewable energy, “it’s what comes after the test tower that’s a concern for us,” said Grand Ridge Township Supervisor George Hess.
Objections were numerous. Among them were concerns a tower or wind farm is incompatible with the township’s comprehensive land use plan, worries about the ability to farm on land that hosts a wind farm and the unknown impact a wind farm could have on aerial chemical applications for soybean and seed corn crops.
Fears about road damage from large cranes used during construction, noise, the view and the possibility of a decrease in property values “are all valid reasons for you to proceed cautiously,” Hess told the board.
Turbines on a wind farm are not considered permanent structures, Arndt said. They have a life expectancy of 30 to 40 years and, even when they are in place, land surrounding the towers can be farmed.
When Invenergy asked the Illinois National Guard for its input into the tower’s possible interference with helicopters, there were no objections. Arndt said the test tower has Federal Aviation Administration markings on top that would help prevent any problems with aerial spraying.
When a wind farm project starts, Invenergy posts bonds and does a study to monitor the roads during construction.
“We leave the roads in as good a condition as they originally were,” Arndt said. “Many times we leave them in better condition.”
The company has hired a consultant to conduct studies of a wind farm’s impact on birds and other wildlife. National studies have found there is little danger that birds would fly into wind turbines if sufficiently spaced apart, Arndt explained.
Invenergy plans to submit its environmental findings if and when it decides to look at obtaining approval for construction of a wind farm. According to Zoning Board President John Hughes, it is not up to the board to conduct any environmental study.
“It is not our charter and not our responsibility to conduct studies,” he said. “It is up to the person-company to present all findings and information to us for review.”
Wind farms don’t just produce energy, Arndt said. They create additional income for landowners and add an additional tax base to the township and the county.
“A wind farm can produce anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 annual tax base per turbine, Arndt said.”
“Why are you interested in this area?” Board Member Robert Miller asked.
Located so close to Exelon’s nuclear plant, there’s a possibility Invenergy could tie into the any of Exelon’s five energy transmission lines if a wind farm were to be built in Grand Rapids, Arndt said.
More important, he continued, the area is the windiest in Illinois. Due to the county’s high elevation, wind traveling uphill is compressed “and that makes for more wind energy. We’ve found that so far, this is the best area in Illinois to host a wind farm.”
After further discussions on how many turbines a farm would hold and how many permits would be required, Hughes stopped further conversation. “We are getting off the subject,” he said. “We are not talking about making a decision on a wind farm.”
The board agreed that while the arguments may be valid, the township’s presentation was based on opposition to a wind farm, not the test towers.
“We appreciate all the facts and opinions you have presented this board,” Hughes said, “but you have not given us any specific information on a temporary test tower.”
“In my opinion,” said Board member Larry Bianchi, “this isn’t the time for your presentation. Your information is excellent and should be presented during a future meeting against a wind farm. You’ve expressed concerns against a wind farm and I hope you will continue to provide your facts and opinions on them, but tonight is not the time.”
By Kate Reynolds
26 March 2007
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