An audience of some four dozen farmers and agricultural property owners applauded the concept of wind farms as protectors of farm land at Tuesday evening’s meeting of the La Salle County Zoning Board of Appeals.
At the end of the meeting, the ZBA voted on a package of zoning ordinance adjustments that included lifting restrictions on wind farm growth. The full County Board likely will vote on the changes at its meeting next week.
Previously split on how much to increase the generating capacity of a wind farm from the county’s 100 megawatt limit, the ZBA had recommended the limit be doubled to 200 megawatts.
However, the County Board this month signaled it favors no limit on a wind farm’s electricity generating capacity limit, a recommendation the ZBA went along with but did not discuss Tuesday.
Now the only recommended restriction is each application for a special use concerning wind farm tower installations be limited to 100 turbines.
It was a limit termed “certainly workable” by Mike Arndt, senior development manager with Chicago-based Invenergy, which wants to expand its 66-turbine wind farm south of the Illinois River.
First among a handful of audience members to comment on the proposed change was Gerald Kohler of St. Louis. He said that, along with his sisters, he owns 120 acres of farm land in La Salle County his parents purchased in 1969.
Kohler said his family has long believed in the preservation of farm land.
Kohler said with the leases on land for turbine placement of 25 years with a 10-year renewal option “we’re locking up 120 acres of farmland for 35 years.
“Now, that may or may not be true, but with the wind turbines on the farm we feel like it’s going to stay farmland.”
“Going along with the definition of highest and best use, my sisters and I feel like the wind farm takes us from the highest and best use of farming to what we call the very highest and very best use: farming combined with renewable energy.”
The audience offered its support with the only applause of the evening.
“This isn’t a pep rally,” said ZBA chairman John Hughes of Streator. “We have to keep this thing moving along. If we’re going to clap for everybody we’re gong to be here a lot later than I want to be.”
Jim Moran of Ottawa summed up his support in less than a minute.
“I think this is a win-win situation for both the county in the form of increased tax dollars and it’s definitely going to be an increase to help me make my land payments. So I’m all in favor of it.”
After the meeting, La Salle County Farm Bureau president Monty Whipple praised Kohler’s eloquence and point of view on wind farms protecting agricultural land from development.
“That is one way of looking at it. You are not only preserving prime farm ground but you are generating electricity in a renewable form as well. So you’re killing two birds with one stone.”
Among the other zoning ordinance amendments issues were regulations for personal wind turbines on agricultural land.
Turbines would be allowed up to 100 feet high and need to follow property line setbacks. The property owner could place them as close to his own house as he wanted, but not closer than 300 feet from any other residence – no matter what the height of the turbine.
The regulation, voted on by the ZBA Tuesday, is more than twice as restrictive as the one for commercial turbines, which limits the distance to 1.5 times its height.
Charles Stanley, firstname.lastname@example.org, 815-431-4063
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