Gary Ofisher’s heart sank as he thumbed through the long-awaited document detailing the proposed rules for building a wind turbine in Hanover Park – the first in the Chicago area.
His immediate reaction was there’s not a single site in town that would fit the criteria.
The Keeneyville Elementary District 20 director of operations, and the catalyst behind the project, said the problem is in the proposed rule that a turbine be 1,000 feet from any home.
In his mind that means it’s so long, wind turbine.
“It’s ridiculous,” Ofisher said. “There’s not one piece of property (that would fit the criteria), not even in an industrial park.”
Ofisher first approached Hanover Park in late 2006 about the wind turbine, a clean energy source that he said could save millions in energy costs and provide educational opportunities.
The school district has secured a 50 percent grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation for construction costs.
The setback rule is among standards laid out in a proposed Hanover Park zoning ordinance amendment drawn up, at least in theory, to allow wind turbine generators.
The amendment must still go before the development commission for a hearing and back to the village board for approval. The language could be changed along the way.
Village officials don’t deny that the ordinance strictly limits where a wind turbine could be installed. But they said the one good reason for the setback rule is safety and note that the ordinance does provide for a waiver of the rule if residents agree to it.
School district officials note the wind turbine would be 300 feet tall at the most. In the unlikely event it should collapse – that is extremely rare though a turbine did fall over last August in Oregon – the fall zone wouldn’t exceed 300 feet. The structure would also be built more than a story into the ground and with buttresses as a precaution.
Ofisher asserted the village’s proposed setback is a sly way of killing the project without having to bring it to a vote.
“They don’t want to say no because they’ll look bad,” he said. “So they’re deliberately putting us through these hoops.”
Not true, said village attorney Jim Binninger. The standards in Hanover Park would simply reflect those in neighboring states.
Binninger said he and Village Manager Marc Hummel drafted the amendment using model ordinances from Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Out of the 20-plus ordinances he looked at, Binninger said nearly all required setbacks of at least 1,000 feet, or three times the height of the wind turbine.
“The larger the setback, the less the impact on residents,” he said. “Those are reasonable setbacks to eliminate nuisances.”
Some officials have noted that those model communities are all rural, where locating 1,000-foot buffers isn’t a challenge.
At Greenbrook Elementary School, District 20’s preferred location for the wind turbine, the structure would be about 700 feet away from the nearest home.
And at nearby Evangel Assembly of God church, which has promised the school district land in exchange for electricity, the wind turbine would be too close to a business, Lithonia Lighting.
The school district can work around that, Binninger said.
There’s a caveat in the amendment that would waive the 1,000-foot setback if the school district got permission from the residents or businesses within that distance.
Given the community’s overwhelming support so far, getting permission is possible. Ofisher said he got only two negative calls after the school district sent out 3,500 mailings to enrolled families.
But there are no guarantees.
Trustees did recently approve a 150-foot meteorological tower, which the grant overseers require to collect a year’s worth of wind data before going forward with the wind turbine.
Ofisher said Binninger and Hummel have been unreceptive from the get-go and that he had to talk to Mayor Rodney Craig to get the idea to the board.
“I say, let trustees make their decision after the reports come back from the test tower,” Ofisher said. “But this setback (rule) is saying: ‘Forget those reports. Forget all the work you’re doing. We’re saying no.’ It’s become political.”
The school district will make its case for a smaller setback Feb. 14 at a public hearing before the development commission set to start at 7 p.m. at village hall. The village board, which can approve, deny or modify the amendment, meets March 6.
By Kimberly Pohl
9 January 2008
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