Larger cities begin crafting wind ordinances as concept catches on
When central Illinoisans think of wind energy developments, images of towering structures scattered on the farm fields of McLean, Bureau and Lee counties come to mind.
But as fuel costs continue to skyrocket and businesses and residents look for ways to save money on electricity, larger cities such as Peoria and East Peoria are getting ready for the possibilities of wind turbines – used to harness the wind’s energy – developing within an urban setting.
Peoria’s Planning & Growth Management Department is in the preliminary stage of changing the city’s zoning ordinances to include wind turbine structures. The department could take these changes to the zoning commission this summer.
In East Peoria, an ordinance addressing wind energy development will be part of a public hearing at 6 p.m. April 14.
“It’s new technology, and rather than sit back and wait and do something, we’ll try to get ahead of the curve a little bit,” said Pat Landes, director of Peoria’s Planning & Growth Management Department. “It’s fair to say we’ve seen interest in our community and in (wind energy development) across the country.”
Ordinances in both communities likely will touch upon several issues about wind turbines that zoning departments in rural
counties throughout Illinois face every time a development is proposed – size, appearance, noise, etc.
Landes said Peoria will probably not support any type of turbine that towers above adjoining properties. She said a city ordinance change could require the structures to conform to the height requirements of the surrounding area, which in residential neighborhoods is no bigger than a house.
In East Peoria, however, at least one business is looking at constructing a turbine that could be visible from Illinois Route 116, and will overlook the Illinois River.
Terry Waldschmidt, owner of Jonah’s Seafood House, said his business is looking at constructing a 175-foot-tall wind turbine with an unobstructed access of west winds across Lower Peoria Lake and the Illinois River. He said the concept is to build a costly turbine that will pay for itself through reduced energy costs in about 10 years.
Waldschmidt said while the location of the turbine is beneficial for capturing wind, its proximity to urban areas is unique. One regulatory factor he said he will probably contend with is a setback requirement prohibiting the turbine from being within a “fall zone,” so that in the rare case the turbine topples over, it cannot land on anything.
Ty Livingston, director of Planning and Community Development with East Peoria, said the city has had a moratorium on wind energy developments since last fall in order to give themselves time to write regulations.
Livingston, much like Landes, said East Peoria’s ordinance will not permit wind turbines the size found on many rural farms, reaching 400 feet or more, which is considerably taller than any structure in the Tri-County Area. Also, he said it’s unlikely any type of structure will be permitted in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
Peoria City Councilman Ryan Spain said he believes some residential wind energy developments can be more “urban friendly,” such as smaller units that can be constructed on rooftops. In Rockford, for instance, a not-for-profit group is planning to install an 18-foot-tall compact turbine atop a two-story building that aims at helping to reduce electricity costs.
Spain said he hopes Landes’ department considers advice locally from people involved in wind energy development. One group he mentioned is Smartenergy Ltd., which is working on a prototype generator designed to fit atop the roof of an average house. It would utilize wind energy to help heat houses.
“The challenge is to not let this be a big emotional issue,” said Heather Grichnik, co-founder of Smartenergy about the prospect of Peoria amending its zoning code to include wind energy developments.
By John Sharp
13 March 2008
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