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Wind farm decision too important to follow herd

Ideas that require people to give up something important often meet with intense review and deliberation. When a decision requires the expenditure of huge sums of tax money, the current economic picture requires measured review. When it comes to wind farms, an Iroquois County group admits there is a big rush by many counties to allow them. We believe the stampede or herd mentality to rush along with everyone else is not the way to make important decisions.

The biggest carrot used by wind companies is money. They pay anyone in the decision making process, and they make lots of bigger promises to pay even more later with added benefit of lowered local taxes and economic growth. The promise of lowered taxes for residents does not always happen, as evidenced in Ellsworth in McLean County. Their property tax bills immediately increased after turbines were erected and the explanation was “urban development.” Wind companies’ claims to bring dollars and jobs to the area are highly exaggerated. Currently, in Paxton, Ford County, a company is preparing to start a wind project and will be making its own concrete on site when there are local concrete companies in Paxton and Gibson City. How is this helping our local businesses?

The promises of big bucks are becoming legendary. Money seems to be the singular factor driving the debate. But those promises are backed by overseas companies with few ties to the community and little incentive to fulfill once they get what they want. In fact, 8 of 10 dollars for building turbines goes overseas.

Will wind companies continue to pay large property tax payments once they saturate the state? It is too early to tell, but we have a hint from a state bill that was introduced and then quickly withdrawn a couple of years ago. The bill HB2665 from the 96th General Assembly was pushed by the wind lobby, and very simply set out to exempt all wind farms from property taxes. Current laws require payments, but lobbyists can easily manipulate those laws later and perhaps leave localities high and dry.

What is left out of the mythology is where that money comes from that pays for these turbines. As much as 60 percent comes from subsidies and tax abatements on the federal and state levels. Federal grants give 30 percent directly from the U.S. treasury in the form of a check. Another similar amount comes in accelerated depreciation, or tax breaks. Then there is the state of Illinois which often grants sales tax immunity to construction materials on the turbines. This shortchanges the local schools and county up front for the promise of bigger property tax revenues later, which may never materialize. Don’t forget production tax credits which amount to about $23 per megawatt, compared to about 44 cents per megawatt for conventional fuels like natural gas or coal. With wind, we basically pay huge amounts of our tax dollars up front and see very little of that returned to the community.

The decision to pack high-density industrial wind machines across the rural landscape does have an impact on the small properties. Contrary to the Horse Wind Farm commentary in the June 5 News-Gazette, smaller property owners are mostly concerned about their health, safety and property values, not how much money the wind companies might offer them. Property owners too quickly learn the blinding effects of money on their county officials and neighbors who turn a blind eye to the obvious devaluation when these machines are too close to residences.

The McCann property value study in a northern Illinois community is but one example of the finding that values can drop by 25 percent up to 100 percent when the constant droning of whirling blades makes that property unsuitable for people to live there. The 1,500-foot setbacks are touted as a fair answer, but the McCann study shows large property devaluations from machines up to 2 miles from homes. In other states like Wisconsin where they are now considering much farther setbacks, those decisions are coming from massive pressure from local officials and property owners who now have the experience that 1,500 feet is not enough (World Health Organization now recommends 1 to 1-1/2 mile setbacks for noise and flicker abatement). To date, these issues have not been addressed or prevented with site planning as we are led to believe. We are letting this industry police itself and it has failed across the world. The rush to bring in wind machines prevents adequate, honest review of the experiences that are screaming “slow down.”

On the current track, Illinois is following the failed footsteps of California with its wind policy. That state is bankrupt too, and its energy policy of favoring wind led to black-outs in the early ’90s and extremely high electric rates for all. Is this the future we want?

As parents we tell our kids “just because everyone else does it is no reason for you to do it.” It now seems the “rush” of hasty decisions by others is being used to justify quickly jumping on a speeding train with an unknown destination and a lack of adequate brakes. Could it be that the pressure being applied to county boards by the wind industry has anything to do with the fact that the grant money propping them up could possibly disappear by the end of this year?

Submitted by Energize Illinois officers Rich Porter, Ann Ihrke, Cindy Ihrke and John Shure. Energize Illinois is a non-for-profit group educating for responsible energy choices.