The wind may be blowing in the right direction for those seeking stronger protections in Lake County regulations for wind farms and other wind energy facilities.
About 40 residents of the Wadsworth and Newport Township attended a Tuesday meeting of the County Board’s Planning, Building and Zoning Committee to argue for greater setbacks and other protections in new wind energy regulations scheduled for a County Board vote next month.
Their concerns arose primarily over the potential Sexton Wind Farm commercial project involving the location of 10 large turbines on a 388-acre site on Russell Road, just west of the Interstate 94.
Although the county regulations do not specifically address the Sexton project, they would impact the project if the company decides to submit a formal development proposal.
The regulations were drafted by the Lake County Wind Energy Task Force, consisting of the county and 20 municipalities, and were the subject of more than 100 hours of public hearings by the county’s Regional Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.
The crux of the residents’ concern is that the Planning, Building and Zoning Committee is considering the removal of a ZBA recommendation for 1,000-foot setbacks for large turbines and instead, returning to originally proposed setbacks of 150 percent of the turbine height.
“I do not want to look at them, hear them, (or see them) flicker or whatever,” said Kevin Purves of Wadsworth. “Would any of you want them in your back yards?”
“This is not peaceful or pastoral. This is a for-profit, industrial-scale power plant that stands to wipe out the life savings of many in Lake County by destroying property values and quality of lives,” said Patricia Palmieri of Newport Township.
Other residents said the project would destroy a bucolic area of the county and that flicker from the turbines could distract drivers on the interstate and create hazards.
While stressing that Sexton was not the issue in adopting the regulations as part of the county’s Unified Development Ordinance, several committee members indicated they would support the larger setbacks and some said industrial-sized turbines might be more appropriate for less-developed areas of the state and country.
“People have been using the words ‘for profit’ as if those are dirty words, and I don’t necessarily think that’s true. But at the risk of playing to the band, I don’t think these belong in Lake County,” said committee member Steve Carlson of Grandwood Park, drawing applause from the crowd.
Committee members Linda Pedersen of Antioch, Susan Gravenhorst of Lake Forest and Diane Hewitt of Waukegan also voiced concerns.
“I don’t know if Lake County is the place for a 400-foot (turbine) tower,” Hewitt said. “I don’t know if I want to talk about someone having to live with that noise or flicker.”
Committee members also noted that the proposed regulations address both noise levels and shadow flicker in residential areas, and that municipalities would have veto power over projects in their planning jurisdiction under state law. Committee member Aaron Lawlor of Vernon Hills, who noted that officials visited several different wind energy projects, suggested the county should not close out wind energy potential entirely.
Lawlor said small to medium-sized projects may be appropriate for some areas of the county.
County Board Chair Suzi Schmidt made similar comments. “I think wind energy is something to support, but possibly and probably not large turbines,” she said.
The committee agreed to discuss the issue once more at its Nov. 9 meeting prior to deciding on a recommendation to the full County Board, which could address the issue Nov. 16.