August 7, 2011

IIRA releases 2011 County Wind Zoning Survey results

The McDonough County Voice, 7 August 2011

Fred Iutzi, manager of renewable energy and agriculture programs for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University, recently moderated the session “Curtailment of Wind Farms Output” at the Fifth Annual Conference for the Illinois Wind Working Group, “Advancing Wind Power in Illinois,” held in July in Chicago. Iutzi leads a unit of specialists in wind energy, applied economics research, bio-energy feedstock assessment, green entrepreneurship and cooperative development. He also serves as chair for the Illinois Biomass Working Group and is an appointee to the Illinois Alternate Fuels Commission.

At the conference, IIRA Wind Energy Program Coordinator Jolene Willis also served as moderator for the session, “City and County Zoning Perspectives,” as well as presented “Wind for Schools” with Matt Aldeman, from the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University. Willis has been closely involved in advancing several community and utility-scale wind farm projects, and she has comprehensive experience in professional economic development organizations and non-profit organizational management and programming.

Also during the conference, Iutzi and Willis released the results of the 2011 county wind zoning survey, which indicates that county wind ordinances are in a state of review and modification. Since 2007, IIRA has conducted three complete surveys of zoning officials in all Illinois counties to determine whether explicit zoning regulations on wind turbines existed.

According to Iutzi, the survey also characterized regulations for utility (large) and small wind systems, commonly referred to in county zoning codes as “wind energy conversion systems” (WECS). In the 2011 survey, it was determined that 45 counties regulate utility scale wind as part of their zoning codes and six counties have stand-alone ordinances.

“Counties derive their authority to place zoning regulations on wind farms from the zoning division of the Counties Code, which specifically references wind farms,” Iutzi said.

He added that a recent amendment typically applies to small wind systems generating power only for the end user. A county may not require an exclusively used wind tower or other renewable energy system to be located further than 1.1 times the height of the renewable energy system from the end user’s property line, according to the amendment.

Willis noted that key features of the 2011 utility scale survey are the setback and decommissioning parameters.

“For utility scale wind systems, the most common setback distance from property lines is 1.1 times the height, and the most common setback from primary structures is 1,000 feet or 1.1 times the height. A setback distinction between participating and non‐participating landowners is an emerging characteristic, with 15 counties incorporating a different setback for each in place of a uniformly applied primary structure setback. The decommissioning requirements for utility scale wind systems have also become more detailed in specifying types of financial assurances, appraisal costs, timing and procedures,” she said.

Willis said that the 2007 Illinois Power Agency Act created a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), mandating that 25 percent of Illinois energy must come from renewable resources by 2025, with 75 percent generated from wind. Due to recent growth partly resulting from the RPS policy, Illinois ranked seventh in the U.S. in existing wind-powered generating capacity and 16th nationally in potential capacity. Wind power capacity has increased in Illinois from 50 megawatts in 2003 to more than 2,400 megawatts in 2010, with 31 wind energy projects throughout the state. In a recent speech, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon said that cooperation between the state and wind industry could maximize the wind potential in Illinois and increase capacity to 10,000 megawatts, surpassing the state’s 2025 goal, Iutzi and Willis noted.

“County ordinances will continue to evolve as the wind industry evolves. IIRA provides technical assistance to communities on wind power and other forms of renewable energy as part of its mission to serve as the state’s academic clearinghouse on rural development data and initiatives,” Iutzi added.
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