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Lee, Whiteside have different approaches

Some contend the Whiteside County Board’s Public Works Committee has fallen short in its review of the county’s wind energy regulations.

The committee has reviewed the ordinance during three meetings, only one of which was devoted solely to the subject. Many County Board members also went on a tour of a wind farm in another county.

That effort pales in comparison to that of Lee County. The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals has been holding 2-hour meetings twice a month since the summer. The meetings have been all about wind energy.

The five-member panel has been going trough every line of a proposed wind energy ordinance from neighboring Ogle County. That will serve as the basis for the panel’s proposed changes to Lee County’s rules.

To its credit, the zoning board probably has the most liberal public input policy of any governing body in the area. People can speak their minds at just about any point in the meeting, as long as it’s relevant to the particular provisions on the table.

Before the zoning board took up the issue, an ad hoc committee – the zoning board members, plus three others – reviewed wind energy issues for a few months. That committee didn’t take any feedback from the public.

It turned out that the ban on input violated state law, so Ron Conderman, chairman of the ad hoc committee and the zoning board, turned over a new leaf. And that benefited the public.

Recently, the board spent its meeting hearing from a scientist who argues that wind turbines substantially affect some people’s health.

The wind industry also has been able to make its arguments.

The zoning board isn’t expected to complete its work until the end of the year.

By contrast, Whiteside County’s process has been much more casual. The Public Works Committee has hit only a few issues. To be fair, though, it took on the biggest of them all – the setback, which is the allowable distance between homes and turbines.

Why is there a big difference in the counties’ approaches?

It’s probably because Lee County has much more experience. It already has several wind farms, while Whiteside County has none. And the only one that’s been proposed in Whiteside County is near Deer Grove, a sparsely populated area.

Lee County residents have seen the effects of turbines, and they can bring that experience to the table.