DIXON – It’ll be at least 6 months before any new commercial wind developments are approved in Lee County.
The Lee County Board this week passed a 6-month moratorium on all commercial wind turbine permitting and instructed its Zoning Board of Appeals to examine wind farm regulations. The vote was 20-4.
The actions are in response to mounting pressure from residents in and around existing and proposed developments.
Residents fighting to have the wind ordinances reopened called the moratorium “a starting point.”
Mark Wagner is a member of Lee County Informed, which has spent nearly 2 years lobbying the Lee County Board on wind issues.
“It is really just a starting point. Our work is just beginning,” Wagner said.
“I do commend the [board} on finally taking some action,” he added.
The county already has more than 250 turbines built or under construction, and at least two developers are scouting the area for 100 or so more.
Among the issues concerning area residents are setbacks, future property tax revenues and declining property values.
Beth Einsele, a Shabbona-based real estate agent, spoke at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Several homeowners in and around the 149-turbine NextEra Energy wind farm in DeKalb County have experienced significant depreciation on their houses because of nuisances from the nearby towers, Einsele said.
“We’ve seen a major fallout in the Shabbona-Waterman market because of these turbines,” she said. “I know one guy who lost $20,000 on his home,” according to an assessment that cited depreciation from surrounding wind turbines.
Einsele and Wagner both said the key to successful wind development around residential areas is setback distances from the 300-foot towers to homes.
Lee County requires wind farm developers to build turbines a minimum 1,400 feet from houses.
Wagner said his group would like to see 1.5 miles become the standard, although he said most in the group are “looking for some compromise on setbacks.”
Among the difficulties a 1.5-mile setback poses is that it essentially rules out any further commercial wind development in the county, Wagner said.
“I just don’t think the county is going to put in a setback that is going to scare all of the developers away,” he said.
The Lee County Informed also points to property-tax revenue as a potential problem for the County Board.
None of the three major developments in Lee County are owned by the original builders.
While not a problem on its face, some owners in other areas have started to look for ways to avoid paying property taxes promised by the original builders, Wagner said.
By changing a tower’s legal description from “property improvement” to “personal property” or “pollution control device,” turbine owners have started attempting to dodge property tax payments that can save companies – and cost county and school boards – millions of dollars, Wagner said.
“We feel that in the future they’re going to go down a path where they don’t have to pay taxes,” Wagner said.
According to the moratorium ordinance passed Tuesday, the Zoning Board has untilto have a series of hearings and submit its recommendations, if any, to the County Board for consideration.
A date for the Zoning Board’s first public hearing has yet to be set. The moratorium expires Feb. 15, unless extended by the County Board.
As for the Lee County Informed, its members will be paying close attention.
“We’re not going to sit back and be quiet about this if there is not an adequate resolution,” Wagner said. “This is something we’re going to keep on challenging until we feel that there’s adequate laws to protect residents from some of the abuses they have endured.”
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