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County board restricts wind farm projects

There will be no large wind farms or towering energy turbines on the horizon for unincorporated Lake County, after the County Board voted Tuesday to bar such facilities from its development ordinance.

The 17-5 vote came after almost two years of county study on the issue and left some northern Lake County residents who had fought against allowing commercial wind farms overjoyed.

“It’s great,” Carol Sebesta of Old Mill Creek said after the board’s vote. “So many things have not been settled as far as their effects on children and the elderly.”

Sebesta was one of many residents who have spoken against large-scale wind farms and turbines at hearings and committee meetings on the issue, citing noise, aesthetic and property value concerns.

One of the residents’ biggest worries had been proposals floated for the Sexton Wind Farm commercial project, which called for the location of 10 large turbines on a 388-acre site on Russell Road, west of Interstate 94. The board’s vote effectively kills that project, barring the property’s annexation by a municipality interested in the development.

Although planning agencies and staff had developed a set of stringent regulations for such projects that would have addressed noise, shadow flicker and other issues through required setbacks and other protections, a majority of board members said there is no room left in the county for wind projects of that scale.

“We’re no longer the rural Lake County we used to be and I think that is a factor here,” said board member Linda Pedersen of Antioch, who noted that with a population of about 700,000, the county is the third-largest in the state and has few sites large enough to accommodate large wind projects.

She also said residents have already seen real estate values drop due to the recession and that such projects could worsen the impact for neighbors.

Board member Bonnie Thomson Carter of Ingleside raised concerns about the impact large turbines could have on wildlife and birds in Lake County, including hawks and owls that are present year-round and migratory birds who utilize the county’s open spaces and preserves. “Lake County is a special place. These habitats are unique to Lake County,” she said.

Board members Pat Carey and Melinda Bush, both of Grayslake, said the county has a responsibility to explore green energy and shouldn’t ban commercial wind energy projects without seeing whether there is a place where such a project could work under the restrictions and guidelines that had been developed.

“We need to move to alternative energy,” Carey said. “Is there a place this could work? I don’t know, but I don’t want to shut the door completely.”

Carey, Bush, and board members Michelle Feldman of Deerfield, Diane Hewitt of Waukegan and Terry Wilke of Round Lake Beach voted in favor of including the larger energy regulations in the development ordinance.

Several board members who voted against allowing the larger wind energy developments said they will support regulations for smaller, single-site wind turbines capped at a height of 150 or 200 feet. Those regulations will be the subject of an upcoming public hearing and vote.

Some small businesses and school districts have contacted the county and indicated they are looking into wind turbines as a way of generating income.

The proposed regulations for the smaller projects may be added to the county’s Unified Development Ordinance for unincorporated areas.

The regulations for both large and small projects 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.

After Tuesday’s vote, County Board Chairman David Stolman of Buffalo Grove said the extensive work that went into developing the wind energy regulations has resulted in guidelines that can serve as a model for municpalities across the county.