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Committee recommends lifting wind farm megawatt limit

The La Salle County Board’s Development Committee voted Thursday to join other Illinois counties that regulate wind farms and lift the limit on how much power they can generate.

The recommendation will go back to the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which had recommended the limit be doubled from 100 to 200 megawatts.

ZBA chairman John Hughes told the committee proposals to keep the limit at 100 megawatts or lift it completely had both failed, and 200 megawatts was a compromise.

Hughes said the ZBA’s concerns were wanting wind farm growth to move at a slower pace and also the administrative load the installations posed on the county.

Matt Stafford of the La Salle County Environmental Services and Development Office said his research found of 30 Illinois counties with wind farm regulations, none had megawatt limits.

Joel Link, director of business development for Invenergy, the firm now constructing the 66-turbine wind farm south of the Illinois River, told the committee his firm wants to more than quintuple the number of turbines it now is authorized to have in La Salle County.

“Our goal would be to get up to that 350 level, we have all the land signed up to get to that level now – with the exception of a few parcels.”

Each of the 389-foot towers has a 1.5 megawatt turbine. A megawatt, Link said, is enough to provide electricity to about 400 average homes.

Link said he is sensitive to the concern of too many wind towers on the landscape too quickly.

“We don’t want to overwhelm the county. There’s also a practical limit to how many you can build at one time: Because of logistics, it’s at the 60 to 100 range.

“We generally, unless it’s a Texas or Colorado project that’s really remote, don’t put up that many turbines at once.”

Link said the county already has control though its zoning powers on how many towers can be placed in relation to buildings and roads. Each tower requires special use approval.

Tom Ganiere, D-Ottawa, said the megawatt limit does not make sense or serve any purpose. He said the legal workaround to the limit would be for a wind farm firm to create a different corporation for each segment of its total project.

Link noted that already is done in order to facilitate project financing.

“We’re not trying to game the system. That’s just the normal course of business.”

Charles Stanley

The Times

4 April 2008