While wind turbines rotate east of Streator and Ottawa, lawmakers in Wisconsin are debating wind farm policy that could serve as a national model.
In an attempt to eliminate the potentially messy fighting between city and county commissions and trying to rid possible over-regulation, Wisconsin will place statewide siting standards for wind farms effective March 1. This will regulate height, setback distance, shadow flickers and other conditions statewide.
The hope is less restrictive conditions will make it easier for wind farm construction within their state.
What about Illinois? Wind farm construction continues southeast of Streator into Livingston County. Several public hearings were conducted at the County Mansion in Dwight debating special use conditions for the 164 wind turbines planned near Manville and Blackstone. Moratoriums are slated in Lee, Ogle and Iroquois counties revisiting wind farm policy.
And that’s the way it should be, according to State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.
“I can’t see us doing that in Illinois,” said Mautino, referring to Wisconsin’s policy. “Discussions at the county level usually involve light flickers in the line of sight, flyways and property tax values. City and county officials are elected to maintain the quality of life within their areas and to take care of development. That’s something we want to keep in their hands.”
Rural Manville resident and Livingston County Board Member Judy Campbell agrees. She was behind efforts for a moratorium in her township calling for a property tax guarantee. The referendum did not pass.
She is worried as more and more counties review their policy for wind farm construction, if restrictive guidelines are set for construction, lobbyists for wind power will make their way down to Springfield.
“I don’t see the state taking away the county’s power, but you never know,”Campbell said. “Right now, most ordinances in the state are wind-friendly. If more restrictive ordinances pass, that’s when it could get interesting.”
Campbell only advocates a statewide policy if it were to allow public hearings at the local level, since she admitted not all counties have the resources to conduct their own studies.
Kevin Borgia, executive director for Illinois Wind Energy Association, an advocate of wind energy, said Wisconsin’s policy could have advantages and disadvantages in promoting wind farm construction.
He points to current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal for more restrictive setbacks as an example. The policy set to take place March 1 calls for a setback of 1,250 feet. Walker wants 1,800 feet.
His proposal is getting squashed by fellow lawmakers, but Borgia says statewide regulation can be as good as it can be bad for construction.
“The benefit is the consistency from county to county if a statewide policy is passed,” Borgia said. “But it also depends on the specifics. If they make it a 600-foot setback, then it would be good for wind energy. But an 1,800 one would be very bad.”
Wind energy has made its fair share of good and bad headlines this past year within Streator and Ottawa. Woodland School could see approximately $1.1 million in funding within the next 10 years from allowing construction on its enterprise zone. Streator Township High School reported wind turbines east of Streator stimulated a two-cent increase to the community tax levy.
On the other end, propellers from two towers were damaged this past summer near Marseilles and a group of citizens in Livingston County worry about a decrease in property tax value from houses near wind turbines.
“We’ll have to see how it plays out in Wisconsin,” Campbell said. “It could end up having a big impact on us.”