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How far should turbines be? Counties have different standards for setbacks

DIXON – Is there a magical number for how far wind turbines should be from homes?

In Whiteside and Lee counties, the required distance is 1,400 feet.

Some counties have shorter setbacks; at least one county’s is greater. A few months ago, Brown County in central Illinois voted in a 2,000-foot setback, which may be the state’s longest.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker proposed a statewide 1,800-foot setback.

In most cases, wind energy companies can negotiate with their neighbors to put wind turbines even closer than setback requirements allow. Such waivers usually mean cash for neighbors.

In recent months, the issue came up in the Whiteside County Board’s committees. One proposed a 100-foot increase, while another voted for the status quo. The matter never reached the full board.

For 6 months, the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals has been reviewing its wind regulations. Only 2 weeks ago did the panel get to the controversial issue of setbacks, and that was just 10 minutes before adjournment.

During that short time, the board’s chairman, Ron Conderman, said he was fine with the current setback, while another member, Tom Fassler, suggested a 1 mile barrier.

The other three members didn’t offer a distance.

In October, a scientist suggested to the board that the setback be somewhere between 1 and 2 miles. He said there was “overwhelming evidence” that turbines hurt some people’s health.

Wind farms create noise, vibrations and shadow flicker that cause people to develop sleep, stress and mood disorders, the scientist said.

Issues related to wind farms don’t draw as much interest in communities such as Sterling, Dixon and Rock Falls. That’s because they have such high concentrations of people that there’s little likelihood that industrial turbines will be nearby.

Many in rural areas are becoming increasingly worried about the coming of wind farms. They hear stories about turbines’ effects on their friends near turbines.

The villages of Franklin Grove and Ashton in Lee County and Deer Grove in Whiteside County have passed ordinances regulating wind farm development in the 1.5-mile buffer zones around their communities. They have the right to do that.

Given political sentiment, it’s doubtful any of these towns will allow turbines anywhere near.

Earlier this year, Hamilton Township in southwestern Lee County passed a nonbinding comprehensive land-use plan that calls for banning turbines altogether.

Hamilton is where much of Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power’s three-county wind farm is planned.

The company said it plans to be a good neighbor.

The setback issue likely will be the major topic at the Lee County Zoning Board’s meeting on Thursday.

The County Board will have the final say.

To attend

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals next meets at 7 p.m. Thursday in the County Board meeting room on the third floor of the Old County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St., Dixon.

The board will discuss the distance between wind turbines and houses.

For more information, go to www.countyoflee.org or call the zoning office at 815-288-3643.