After a hiatus stemming from a legal glitch, the Rail Splitter Wind Farm is returning to the agendas of Logan County governing bodies.
Zoning issues related to the wind farm, targeted for the northern part of the county, will be on the Logan County Regional Planning Commission’s May 7 agenda.
The matter was on the commission’s April agenda, but the county zoning office failed to formally notify all property owners living within a certain distance of the land proposed for rezoning. When a property owner complained, the commission had to postpone discussing the matter until next month.
The planning commission’s meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Logan County Courthouse.
Commissioners will hear Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy’s request to issue special use permits for 29 tracts of land where wind turbines will be erected in Logan County.
Another 35 turbines are targeted for farm properties in adjacent Tazewell County, which has already held three public hearings on the wind farm’s zoning issues.
Phil Mahler, Logan County’s regional planner, is predicting the commission will likely make a motion to approve the project.
“I haven’t polled everybody, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t go through,” said Mahler. “We need alternative fuels. Let the wind produce it.”
If Mahler’s prediction is correct and the recommendation passes the planning commission, the zoning board of appeals will decide a place and time for a public hearing. Mahler said the location will likely be in the Emden area. At this meeting, both proponents and opponents of the wind farm can voice their opinions once again.
The board of appeals will then make a motion to approve or disapprove the recommendation.
Even if the matter passes these two boards, the Logan County Board will have the final say when the matter reaches the board agenda during an adjourned meeting at 7 p.m. May 20.
Mahler said he expects heavy opposition at future meetings.
The regional planner said he has personally toured a wind farm in McLean County near Ellsworth, which is part of a project constructed along Illinois Route 9. After seeing approximately 100 towers and walking under four of them, Mahler sees no problem with the structures.
“They’re not that noisy, and they’re better looking than cell towers,” he said. “They fill grass around the dome (of the structure), and it’s pretty close to the tower.”
The local residents don’t seem to mind the structures, says Mahler.
“They like the looks of it,” he said. “I haven’t talked to anyone who is upset.”
One group that is upset about the proposed turbines is Union Ridge Wind. The group has been publicly voicing its opposition through media outlets and public board sessions in Logan and Tazewell counties.
The group has also issued a video illustrating the effects of the wind towers.
“Don’t believe the tape,” said Mahler. “It’s not what’s there. They said it’s real loud, and it’s not.”
According to Glenn Fogler, a member of Union Ridge Wind, the towers aren’t noisy until they get a good wind behind them.
“When the propeller gets going, it sounds like a big airplane taking off,” said Fogler. “I’ve been to wind farms at different times. If the wind’s not blowing, there’s no noise.
“It depends on the wind speed.”
Although Mahler expects more opposition at the commission’s meeting, he says he really doesn’t understand why. Property owners, who agree to have the towers built on their land, will receive approximately $5,000 per tower.
But that’s the problem, says Fogler.
“I’ve been to a lot of meetings and haven’t heard from one person who didn’t have a financial interest,” he said. “The only way to get a factual opinion is by talking to someone who lives among the wind turbines but has no financial interest.”
Fogler doesn’t rebut Mahler’s contention that the turbines near Ellsworth aren’t a disturbance for the town’s residents, because he believes it’s all about proximity.
“If you live in town, there’s a big difference,” he said. “(The disturbance) is based on how close you live to turbines.”
An opinion can stem from the promise of personal financial gain, too, says Fogler.
“When you’re making $30,000 to $40,000 off of having turbines on your property, it might make a difference.”
Union Ridge Wind has also addressed concerns about safety issues, in particular, whether the 400-foot-tall turbines may cause a problem for crop dusters and other planes.
“It’s not like we have to worry about a Boeing 747 flying into one of those around here,” said Mahler. “And since you’re making money (from having the towers on a property), you’d be able to spray fields with a tractor.”
Mahler also sees the potential for this area to receive utility benefits from the towers, but he stops short of saying residents’ Ameren bills will be reduced.
“They already have a contract to sell … to Ameren,” he said. “(The power) can go anywhere, St. Louis, Lincoln. It goes on a major line that runs towards San Jose and goes on the Ameren grid.
“I doubt it will lower rates.”
The county and the city have already granted Horizon the use of an enterprise zone with special conditions. The county will receive a building permit fee of $7,000 for each of the 29 proposed towers.
The city of Lincoln stands to gain up to $150,000 in enterprise zone administration fees from the Rail Splitter Wind Farm, which is proposed for construction on land miles away from the city limits.
But, at a $5,000 annual payment to the city by the wind farm, it will take 30 years to earn that much revenue. At the moment, the city only has a guarantee to receive the annual payments through 2017, when the Lincoln-Logan County Enterprise Zone is due to expire.
State officials could extend the zone’s life, but there’s no guarantee that will happen.
Horizon Wind Energy’s agreements in Logan and Tazewell counties specify that the company will not take advantage of property tax breaks that are one of the incentives of building inside an enterprise zone.
Bill Whitlock, director of development for the wind farm, has said the company only wants to utilize the zones’ incentive that will allow the company to pay no sales tax on all in-state purchases of construction materials. He said Horizon intends to make Illinois its point of purchase for the wind turbine components.
By Joshua Niziolkiewicz
28 April 2008