CAMBRIDGE – Two public hearings will be held next week on a request by wind energy company Invenergy for greater leeway on locating wind turbines in the Bishop Hill area.
The request comes from Invenergy in the wake of a ruling by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency that no wind turbines should be closer than three miles to Bishop Hill, a historic Swedish community that strives for period authenticity.
Invenergy wants to change a county ordinance that says the firm is to “construct/operate the wind farm in compliance with all local, state and federal land use regulations including … Illinois Historic Preservation Office requirements including those for protection of the village of Bishop Hill.”
The firm proposes changing the language to read that they “shall consult with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) regarding the effect of the project on the village of Bishop Hill.”
Henry County zoning officer Bob Westfall said, “What they’re asking is that we amend our special use permit so that it’s only advisory, not required.”
The public hearings on Invenergy’s request will be during the county’s planning committee meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 18 and the zoning board of appeals meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 19. Recommendations will go to the Feb. 8 county board meeting. Letters about the meetings have been sent to more than 500 landowners, neighbors and representatives of taxing districts.
Ann DeSmith, chairman of the county’s plan/development committee, said this week she didn’t believe Invenergy planned very many turbines inside of a mile from Bishop Hill, but there would be more between one-and-one-half and three miles.
Bishop Hill Mayor Mike Funke said residents are mostly in favor of the wind farm around Bishop Hill.
“From citizens that I’ve spoken to and things that I’ve heard, I would say the majority of Bishop Hill is for the wind farm project,” he said.
He said some residents think the towering wind turbines will detract from the historic town, but he said positives outweigh the negatives and he “doesn’t see why the village should have a say anyway” in what happens outside village limits. He noted residents can see grain rigs that weren’t there when the town was founded.
“You have to look at what it’s going to do for the county,” he said, mentioning tax revenue which could amount to $1.9 million per year for county taxing districts. He also noted wind energy is a renewable resource, and it may be a draw for people to see them and then visit Bishop Hill.
Mayor Funke said he is open to listening to arguments against the wind farm, but he added that in his opinion, no one has made a good argument yet. He’s also glad the farm is being named after the village.
“To my notion that’s pretty prestigious that they want to name it after Bishop Hill. That’s pretty generous,” he said.
Invenergy’s vice president for development, Andrew Flanagan, said in a emailed statement, “Invenergy has worked with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency on the Bishop Hill Energy Center since development began in 2006, and we’re committed to continuing to work with the IHPA – and with the community at large – as we move forward with the project. Invenergy also looks forward to providing a new supply of clean, renewable energy, and to contributing to the economic development of our host community by providing jobs, yearly tax revenue to the county and local municipalities, and payments to area landowners.
“The Bishop Hill project has received enthusiastic community backing, and we thank the citizens, local business and community leaders, and local and state officials who have joined together to support Invenergy in our efforts.”