DANVILLE – A Vermilion County Board committee suggested Thursday night possible changes to the county’s wind turbine ordinance, including slightly increasing the distance turbines can be from a residence.
The county board’s executive and legislative committees met Thursday night to discuss a few issues, including the county’s current wind ordinance that was approved in January 2009 to regulate certain aspects of wind farms in Vermilion, which does not have county wide zoning.
Currently, there are no wind farms in Vermilion, but the county board earlier this year approved permits, per its existing ordinance, to Chicago-based Invenergy for more than 100 wind turbines in the west central part of the county.
But several county residents have been routinely voicing to county board members concerns with wind turbines and have repeatedly asked the and consider making some significant changes, including revising setbacks, the distance turbines are allowed to be built from nearby residences. The county’s current ordinance requires that wind turbines be no closer than 1,000 feet from a residence.
Kim and Darrell Cambron of rural Rankin argued again at Thursday night’s meeting that 1,000 feet is too close. The Cambrons have presented county board officials with a lot of information about other documented concerns about wind turbines, including safety, wildlife and property value issues. Two other residents, Bill Ingram and Ruth Hunt, also spoke to the county board members Thursday night, mostly arguing that the wind industry makes no sense from a financial standpoint, partly due to the federal subsidies the wind companies receive.
The committee and residents discussed many issues for more than an hour and a half, and a few of the board members agreed with the concerns of the residents but also stated that there’s nothing within the county board’s power to keep other landowners in the county from leasing their property to the wind turbine companies.
Board member Rick Knight, R-District 3, said he believes many of the opponents’ concerns need to be taken to the state and federal governments, not the county board.
“But the right to do with your property what you want is sacred,” Knight said.
Board member Gary Weinard, R-District 1, said he too has concerns about the economic feasibility of the wind industry, but the county board does not have “the tools,” or the statutes, to say no to the landowners who are leasing their properties.
Board member John Alexander, R-District 6, said there are “experts” who raise concerns about certain economic and safety issues, like the effect of shadow flicker created by the rotating turbines on nearby residents, but there’s no common agreement at the state or federal levels that wind farms are hazardous. And, he said, there are concerns with tax incentives and the efficiency of the industry, but the county has no control over those issues. It is a legal business, he said, and we have no grounds to deny a legal business without zoning.
County board attorney Bill Donahue, who has researched the issues from a legal standpoint, made a short presentation to the committees at the beginning, and he said the wind industry is a legal business that the state and federal governments have endorsed “for good or ill,” and Vermilion County landowners are entitled to develop their land. Donahue said the only change he was recommending was to increase from $1,000 to $3,000 the per-turbine permit fee the county is charging the companies, because the process of working with the wind farm developers has created more work for county officials than they had anticipated.
At the end of the meeting, board members agreed that while the county will not place a moratorium, as asked by the Cambrons and others, on considering any new wind turbine development projects, it will make some suggestions for changes to its ordinance.
Alexander suggested that county officials consider increasing the permit fee to $3,000, consider increasing the setback distance from the current 1,000 feet to 1,200 feet and consider stipulating more in decommissioning, which is what’s required of the wind farm company if a turbine is no longer in use.
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