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Voters back turbine ban; Wind industry suffers setback with referendum

FRANKLIN GROVE – Residents in the Franklin Grove area voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ban industrial wind turbines.

In the nonbinding referendum, 137 voters, or 75 percent, backed the ban, while 45, or 25 percent, opposed it.

Voters in Frankin Grove and those within 1.5 miles of its boundaries cast ballots.

In August, the village board is expected to consider whether to follow the voters’ will and enact the ban, which would apply to the village and the 1.5-mile area.

The referendum – or public opinion poll, as Mayor Bob Logan preferred to call it – could have political effects throughout Lee County. It’s the first time a public vote on wind energy has been taken in the county.

Opponents of wind farms have seen the County Board as pro-wind industry, an issue that could play out in next year’s board election.

Logan, who campaigned for the ban, said he was surprised the vote was so overwhelmingly against turbines.

“This is an accurate reflection on how people feel,” he said.

He said that although the village board wasn’t legally bound to the voters’ will, it was ethically obligated to follow suit.

Months ago, the village considered enacting a ban within the village and the 1.5-mile area. But it was criticized for doing so without getting the out-of-towners’ input. So the village board voted 5-1 to hold the referendum.

Board member Tony Schaneberg voted against holding it. He said Tuesday that he did so because he thought anyone 18 or older – voters and nonvoters – should be allowed to participate.

“It’s an opinion poll, not an election,” he said.

Schaneberg declined to say how he voted.

County Board Vice Chairman John Nicholson, one of Franklin Grove’s more prominent residents, said last week that he would vote for the ban. Turbines near the village would limit its growth, he said.

Earlier this year, the County Board’s Properties Committee, which Nicholson heads, recommended against extending the moratorium on new wind development – a move that angered opponents of wind farms.

The board let the moratorium expire without a discussion.

The county Zoning Board of Appeals is now reviewing the wind farm ordinance and is expected to make recommendations for changes. A Whiteside County committee will soon start a similar process.

Referendums on wind issues are rare. An Internet search turned up only a couple in recent years – both on the East Coast in 2006. In one, voters overwhelmingly approved wind energy in their community, while in the other, two-thirds of voters rejected a proposed wind farm.

To attend

The Franklin Grove Board of Trustees will meet at 7 p.m. Aug. 8 at Village Hall, 105 E. South St.

The board is expected to discuss the possibility of banning industrial wind turbines in Franklin Grove and the 1.5-mile area outside of the village.

Call Village Hall, 815-456-2131, for more information.