DIXON – Opponents of wind farms say a panel reviewing Lee County’s wind energy ordinance has a pro-industry bias.
Indeed, one member works for a wind company and makes no bones about it.
Other members, however, contend they’re keeping an open mind. One says the opponents include newcomers who aren’t used to living in rural areas.
In October, the Lee County Board appointed an eight-member ad hoc committee to review the ordinance and make recommendations for changes. That panel is made up of the five members of the county Zoning Board of Appeals and three nonmembers – Alan Pfeifer, a professor; Keith Bolin, a wind industry employee; and Mark Wagner, a Franklin Grove resident who is fighting wind energy development.
All five zoning board members are farmers. Wagner has speculated in public meetings that some of them have somehow benefited from wind-energy development. He hasn’t provided evidence.
Wagner has argued that both Bolin and Pfeifer are tools of the wind industry. He said that’s not fair to the many residents who oppose turbines near their homes because they’re unsightly and noisy.
Bolin joined Mainstream Renewable Power, a wind company, a few months ago. He acknowledges that he’s an enthusiastic supporter of the wind industry.
A farmer, Bolin said he became involved with the wind industry as a Bureau Valley school board member a decade ago. He helped push the project for a wind turbine to power the high school, the first one for an Illinois school district. It was designed to cut energy costs, he said.
Bolin, an office manager for Mainstream’s Walnut office, said he hadn’t received a paycheck from the wind industry in nearly all the time he has advocated for it.
“Can I sympathize with those who don’t want turbines? Yes,” he said.
But he maintains that wind turbines are a “good economic engine” for the Midwest, bringing revenue to school districts and other government agencies. They’re also a way to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, he said.
Pfeifer, Sauk Valley Community College’s dean of information services, said only 5 percent of his job is related to wind energy. He said he was in charge of a study to get a wind turbine at the college.
“We just have to come to a conclusion on how we can interact with new technologies,” he said. “How are we going to allow wind turbines and humans to be in harmony? Sitting on that committee, we’re trying to answer that.”
Ron Conderman, the zoning board’s chairman, said he doesn’t believe the committee is biased toward the wind industry.
But he said some people think the committee was set up to get rid of wind turbines altogether.
In many cases, he said people, including wind farm opponents, have moved from the big city to Lee County’s rural areas and then find they detest the agricultural environment.
“They don’t like the dust, the smell and the noise,” he said.
At the same time, Conderman said some farmers don’t want turbines.
“They ought to have that right,” he said.
Craig Buhrow, the panel’s vice chairman, said the zoning board is made up of farmers because they know the county, the roads and the soils.
He said homeowners who want to protect the value of their properties should be in residential zones, “so you have nothing that will affect the value of your house.”
“People are taking a risk buying a house in an ag zone,” he said.
Buhrow said wind farm opponents include everyone from farmers to newcomers.
“I have asked local farmers about why they don’t like them [turbines]. They don’t like the looks of them,” Buhrow said. “It doesn’t bother me. It’s like a tree; you get used to them. Some people think they [turbines] are majestic.”
Zoning board member Mike Pratt said he is not biased in favor of the wind industry. In fact, he said he has turned down wind companies’ offers to set up turbines on his farm.
“I don’t think it’s in the best economic interest of my family,” he said.
Pratt considers himself a supporter of property rights.
“The people who pay taxes on property for 40 years have a right to do what they want on their property and not be told by someone who has been there a couple of years what to do – unless there’s a sound reason for it,” Pratt said.
He said the opposition to wind farms has grown in Lee County.
“Maybe it’s time we take a harder look at them,” he said.
Wagner, who has homes in Franklin Grove and Evanston, a Chicago suburb, took exception to arguments that he and others don’t want to live in agricultural areas.
“I moved here for the farms. I’m friendly with my neighbor-farmers,” he said.
Wagner said he has had his house in Franklin Grove for 11 years. And he said he intends to move there permanently, unless turbines encroach his area.
“I never hear people complaining about the agricultural life,” he said.
Lee County’s ad hoc committee reviewing the wind farm ordinance will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the third floor of the Old County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St., Dixon. The committee has five Zoning Board of Appeals members, Ron Conderman, Craig Buhrow, Tom Fassler, Gene Bothe and Mike Pratt; and three non-members, Alan Pfeifer, Keith Bolin and Mark Wagner. For more information, call the county zoning office at 815-288-3643.