SHABBONA – Jim and Donna Nilles would like to sell their house on Leland Road.
But the Nilleses – who live within 1,800 feet of wind turbines that are part of the wind farm operated by NextEra Energy that went up in four townships in DeKalb County in late 2009 – don’t expect they’ll be able to sell their home anytime soon. Part of that is because of current economic conditions, they said, but they don’t think the wind turbines help, either.
“The main gripe we have right now is nobody listens to us,” Jim Nilles said. “Nobody comes out here.”
They are among a group of DeKalb County residents who have asked county officials – most recently at a county board meeting – to look into noise and multiple other issues related to the wind farm. One of the more recent complaints came two weeks ago when a wind turbine’s blade shattered.
But the company and the county’s planning and zoning director say NextEra has remained compliant with the terms of its permit conditions.
“We have met all of our permit conditions, and we are communicating regularly with the county as outlined in those conditions,” NextEra spokesman Steve Stengel said.
There has been strong opposition to the wind farm since it was first proposed.
The DeKalb County Board voted in June 2009 to grant NextEra permission to build and operate 119 wind turbines in Afton, Clinton, Milan and Shabbona townships. It’s part of a larger wind farm that included 145 total turbines in DeKalb and Lee counties. Before board approval, several hearings – including one that lasted 19 hours – were held on the proposal that brought out hundreds of people.
That opposition has continued since the farm became operational in late 2009. Mel Hass, spokesman for Citizens for Open Government – a group of local residents opposed to the wind farm and that is suing to have it shut down – said he has found many board members aren’t aware of problems with the turbines.
Residents say there are numerous issues with the turbines, including loudness, shadow flickers and interference with TV reception. Shadow flickers happen when sunlight catches the rotating blades at an angle that creates a moving shadow through windows.
Hass said many residents have called a NextEra hotline to complain about these and other issues, but he said any response from the company comes several days later, if at all.
“I don’t know what else we can do to prove our point,” Hass said. “What’s left for me and my neighbors but for us to try to resolve this on our own?”
The shattering of a turbine blade two weeks ago at Shabbona Road between Keslinger and Gurler roads is one of the recent concerns. Residents expressed concern that the shattered turbine blade and its debris could have hit a horse or a car driving near the turbine.
“Their good-neighbor policy went out the door the day the DeKalb County Board gave them those special-use permits, as far as we’re concerned,” said Beth Einsele, who claims NextEra has ignored repeated calls to respond to problems.
Stengel said the shattered blade is unusual and is under investigation. One of the wind turbines in the wind farm also experienced a broken blade in May.
“We have not experienced that anywhere else in our fleet,” Stengel said. “The cause of that is under investigation.”
Stengel said the hotline is manned during normal business hours. An answering service picks up calls that come in at other times and forwards those to the site leader, Stengel said. If someone calls to report a problem, the company is obligated to investigate it.
Stengel said the vast majority of calls have come from people who are suing the company. He said he believes those who have problems with the wind farm are in the minority. He said the facility has performed exceptionally well; there have been no injuries at the site and equipment has been well-maintained.
“I think the things that we said, I think that those things have come to be true,” Stengel said. “There is a group of individuals that are not happy with the wind farm. Those are the same individuals that are suing us in court.”
And not all residents near the wind farm have issues with the turbines. Elizabeth Armenta said she moved to her home on McGirr Road last year and isn’t bothered by the wind turbines. She doesn’t live close enough to experience shadow flickers, and she said she can’t hear the turbines unless it’s very quiet.
Kit Tjelle, who lives on Lee Road, said she and her husband Kevin feared the worst before the turbines were installed, but she said they’ve been pleasantly surprised to find they appreciate their beauty and clean design. A few turbines stand just beyond their backyard.
“They don’t bug us at all. At all,” Tjelle said. “They’ve kind of become part of our landscape.”
Paul Miller, the county’s director of planning and zoning, said the county monitors and follows up on the 36 conditions that were part of the county’s approval of the wind farm, including things like setbacks from structures and property lines, and a property value guarantee.
“To date, we have not found them in violation of any of those conditions,” Miller said.
Lawsuit still pending
Citizens for Open Government filed a lawsuit in July 2009 that was dismissed later that year because it lacked factual evidence. The group filed an amended complaint in January 2010, asking that the wind farm be shut down and the turbines dismantled. In June 2010, a judge rejected NextEra’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
The lawsuit names NextEra Energy, the county board and the nearly 100 landowners who allowed turbines to be installed on their property. The lawsuit alleges that the county board overstepped its zoning authority when it authorized the special-use zoning permits for agricultural land. County officials have said the project is allowed under a special-use clause that permits “essential service structures.”
John Farrell, who manages the civil division of the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office, said the case has been pending for a while, but it’s too early to say where it’s going.
The next court date this month will address outstanding discovery, which includes exchange of documents and witnesses giving testimony, Farrell said.
County Board Chairman Larry Anderson, R-Malta, said he cannot comment on the situation because of the lawsuit.
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