Since Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy has proposed putting up 29 wind turbines in Logan County, along with 37 turbines in Tazewell County, many arguments have surfaced regarding whether the construction might have a negative impact on some local residents.
The project, known as the Rail Splitter Wind Farm, recently received approval by the Tazewell County board. On the same night, Logan County’s regional planning commission voted to recommend issuing a conditional-use permit for construction in its recently expanded enterprise zone. The Logan County Board still has to approve the commission’s recommendation.
Disturbing wildlife in its natural habitat has been one argument against the proposed construction, a possibility that prompted the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to request Horizon to conduct further studies in the proposed construction areas.
Another is safety for aircraft, which has led the county to seek the Federal Aviation Administration’s input on various safety possibilities.
Even the issue of health has been raised, with a doctor from New York diagnosing one north-central Illinois woman with wind turbine syndrome, which carries symptoms similar to motion sickness.
For some, noise disturbances, or just the fact the wind turbines are an “eyesore,” are said to be enough reason to shift construction away from residential areas.
For every argument, a counter argument exists.
According to some arguments brought up by Horizon in two different regional planning commission meetings, studies have been done to show no wildlife will be negatively affected, there is no evidence of danger to aircraft and there is no evidence of the wind turbines posing a health risk. Horizon also has said the turbines have served as tourist attractions and have the potential to bring visitors to Logan County, rather than being an eyesore.
One of the main arguments, however, has to do with property values.
“You can’t tell me an open piece of land has the same property value (when you put up multiple wind turbines,” said Rick Porter, a lawyer for Union Ridge Wind, a group opposing the wind farm.
In response to residents’ concerns about their property values being lowered, Horizon has recently issued an updated property value assessment of other residential areas located in the footprints of wind turbines.
According to a report prepared by Peter J. Poletti of Poletti and Associates, Inc., a Collinsville-based real estate appraisal and consult company, the wind turbines will not negatively affect property values.
In examining the effect on property values, Poletti mainly concentrated on Lee County, where the Mendota Hills Wind Farm has been operating since 2003.
According to the report, “the record of sales transactions for Lee County in Illinois were reviewed for sales transactions surrounding operating large scale wind generating sites. This record included the style, age, and size of the improvements.”
One of the main arguments Horizon’s opposition used, regarding the Mendota Hills project, was the Bingham-Road argument.
A home on Bingham Road, a residence located near wind turbines, was constructed in 2006 and put on the market for $329,900. The house, after being on the market until the Spring of 2008, eventually sold for $265,000.
Other homes similar to the Bingham road property, which were not surrounded by wind turbines, were sold for a similar price, according to the report.
“The comparison indicates the Bingham Road property sold for a similar price per square foot to five sales (of other homes not located near wind turbines) and shows no significant impact on the value of this property from the wind farm, in spite of being surrounded by seven towers in relatively close proximity.”
According to the report, other residential areas were also viewed. The analysis showed that even if a residence wasn’t located close to a wind farm, it suffered the same loss in market value.
“The asking price of $329,900 (for the Bingham Road property) was not realistic within this market, and a more realistic price was the price at which the house finally closed.”
The report also showed many homes in the Meadow Brook Subdivision, which were purchased before the construction of wind turbines, sold for an equal or greater value to homes in the same area that were purchased after the project’s construction.
“Poletti attempts to justify his conclusion of no property value loss by using some data of sales of homes that are nearly one mile away from the Mendota Hills wind facility,” said Porter. “All of my clients are in the facility itself and surrounded by turbines.
“Further, the Mendota Hills turbines are 165 feet shorter than the massive turbines proposed here.”
In addition, the Poletti report indicates a recent proposal for a new, 47-lot subdivision near the wind-turbine project shows investor confidence in undisturbed property values.
“Qualitative data from the Mendota Hills Wind Farm area indicates there is no substantial difference in prices within the proximity to an operating wind farm and those located some distance away,” cited the report.
Despite the report, Porter wants Horizon to put its money where its mouth is.
“If they are so confident in this report,” Porter said. “Why don’t they issue a guarantee against the loss of property values?”
Porter said any financial guarantee would be less than what the cost would be to construct just one wind turbine. He also suggested that if the Logan County Board required a clause that Horizon make this guarantee, it likely wouldn’t stop the wind farm company from continuing with its plans for construction.
“It should be noted that Mr. Poletti (a paid witness) has continued to show that he is biased toward Horizon because he has agreed with Horizon’s refusal to enter into a property value guarantee plan,” said Porter. “If Poletti really believed that there was no property value loss, then there would be no reason for Horizon not to enter into a property value guarantee plan.
“A property value plan merely requires the turbine company to pay for any loss sustained by homeowners in the immediate vicinity of the turbines.”
Porter has drafted a proposal called the Property Value Guarantee Plan that will be presented to the Logan County Board.
“A property value plan merely requires the turbine company to pay for any loss sustained by homeowners in the immediate vicinity of the turbines,” said Porter. “That loss is determined by each party hiring appraisers, and if those two appraisers come to the conclusion there is a loss, then the values are averaged and the loss is paid.”
Logan County Board chairman Dick Logan was asked if the county board would put in such a clause.
“No comment,” said Logan. “I try to stay away from all of this legal (stuff).”
Based on previous interviews and public comments from county board members, the regional planning commission’s recommendation will likely be followed by the Logan County Board, as it was in Tazewell County.
The first zoning board of appeals’ public hearing will be Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Hartsburg-Emden High School gymnasium, where Horizon will present its testimony and call witnesses in support of its evidence.
Porter will call his witnesses and cross-examine Horizon’s testimony at a zoning board of appeals meeting, which will follow Horizon’s on a separate day.
“We have hired an appraiser, Michael McCann, who has done a study specific to the proposed Logan County Turbine Facility. Mr. McCann has extensive experience with valuing affects of proposed projects on nearby properties,” said Porter. “Unlike Mr. Poletti, Mr. McCann has no pre-study biases that impact his decisions.
“In this case he has conducted a true paired sales analysis using the Mendota Hills project and found that unfortunately there were very few sales in the area after the turbines were built as buyers will not purchase in the area. He did find one sale of a home located on Bingham Road near the turbines.”
McCann will be called as a witness at the zoning board of appeals meeting by Porter.
By Joshua Niziolkiewicz
12 June 2008