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Legislation would allow communities without zoning to restrict wind energy development

Legislation introduced in the Illinois Senate would likely fix a possible setback for communities looking to restrict wind turbine development with a mile-and-a-half of their borders.

Senate Bill 167, introduced by Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, would allow communities without a zoning ordinance to restrict the development within 1.5 miles of town.

Current law approved in 2007 allows communities to ban such development surrounding its “zoning jurisdiction,” though an informal opinion from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office said municipalities did not need to have zoning rules in place to regulate energy development.

“Some communities have interpreted (the law) as the community has to have zoning,” Sullivan said. “Other communities have said, รข No, that doesn’t mean you have to have zoning. It just means that it’s in your jurisdiction.'”

The bill is currently held up the Senate Local Government Committee, but Sullivan expects to call it up for a vote next week, which is the deadline to move bills out of committee.

This comes as towns in Adams County have voted to restrict development near their towns. New York-based Global Winds Harvest has plans to construct a wind farm in the northeast portion of the county.

Golden banned the development within 1.5 miles of town in December, though it did not have a zoning ordinance. Clayton, which does have a zoning ordinance, banned development in January.

Sullivan said he was approached by the village of Golden to propose a change in the legislation.

“It basically codifies into law the fact that zoning jurisdiction does not mean that a community has to have zoning to be able to do this,” Sullivan said.

The Illinois Wind Energy Association has spoken with Sullivan’s office on the legislation.

“If you look at the way the bill was set up, it would essentially allow a town to control the use of land outside town even though that town has chosen not to control land usage of any kind inside town,” Kevin Borgia, executive director of the association, said.

He said it would not allow the ability to regulate any other land use such as a cell phone tower.

Landowners within the zoning radius don’t have a say in the town, Borgia added.

“You can’t go vote that guy out in the next election,” he said. “You may not even be able to speak at that municipal hearing because you’re not a resident, but your land is going to be governed by the decisions of that municipal board.”

Sullivan said he is working with opponents to make the legislation more acceptable.

He said an amendment that could be tacked on the bill would address whether a wind turbine that has been permitted would be allowed to be built if the measure becomes law.

Borgia said the association was happy to work with Sullivan on the legislation as long as it didn’t restrict the ability of landowners to do what they want with their farmland.