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Activist: Many wind farms planned for Lee County

DIXON – A top Lee County official says he knows of two wind projects being considered for the county. An activist contends there are more.

No applications for wind turbines are pending before the county, said Chris Henkel, Lee County’s zoning administrator.

Last month, Mark Wagner, a supporter of more wind farm regulation, told the County Board that several new wind projects are being planned. They would cover the eastern, southern and southwestern parts of the county, he said.

“In my opinion, the visual transformation from scenic rural to industrial will be complete,” he said. “Lee County will be a large electrical generating plant, with new transmission lines being placed into service to pick up power from the turbines.”

The two proposed projects that Henkel cites have been publicized.

The one furthest along is Ireland-based Mainstream’s project, which will include turbines in Lee, Bureau and Whiteside counties.

The other is in eastern Lee County in the Ashton and Franklin Grove areas. That one is planned by RES Americas, a Colorado-based subsidiary of British energy conglomerate, RES Group.

Henkel said that he has heard from Mainstream and that he expects to see an application in late summer or early fall – the same timeline that Whiteside County has reported. But he said the timing may depend on when the county Zoning Board of Appeals finishes with proposed changes to the county ordinance for wind farms.

“[Mainstream] is moving right along. They’ve gotten several thousand acres. That’s their business. They’re not required to go through this office yet,” Henkel said.

As for the other proposed wind farm, Henkel said he hadn’t spoken with the company about it in 2 years.

A couple of months ago, the firm closed its office in Ashton. But a RES official said that didn’t mean the company was giving up on its plans. Rather, the company had completed its land acquisition activities, the official said.

In March, a county ad hoc committee ended its review of the county’s wind farm ordinance. The panel turned over its meeting minutes containing members’ recommendations to the Zoning Board of Appeals. On June 2, the board is expected to set a timeline for reviewing those minutes and making suggestions for changes to the ordinance.

The county has a 5-month moratorium on new wind farm applications, which ended in February. The County Board hasn’t acted on requests to extend it.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Wagner urged the county to look beyond zoning issues and determine whether it wants “unbridled wind turbine growth.”

Wagner criticized the wind ad hoc committee for never discussing major issues such as the distance between turbines and homes. He urged the county to act quickly.

“Be wary of the fact that during this period, there is nothing in place to stop the acceptance and approval of further wind turbine permits, as the moratorium has been allowed to expire,” Wagner said. “I don’t think this is a wise position for the county to be in.”

Wind farm opponents consider turbines unsightly and noisy.