DIXON – Lee County has had wind farms for years. Neighboring Ogle County has none, although it’s expecting one soon.
Despite its experience, Lee County has leaned heavily on Ogle County as it reviews its wind energy ordinance.
When the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals began the process last summer, it used a proposed Ogle County ordinance as the basis for a review.
As the board makes changes, the county updates the website under an item with an Ogle County ordinance label.
The approaches of Ogle and Lee counties differ in one key area – the required distance between homes and wind turbines.
Lee County’s debate is focused on a magic number. The county now requires that turbines be at least 1,400 feet from homes, unless wind companies negotiate with property owners for less. That’s a little more than a quarter of a mile.
Some want to keep that distance the same. Others propose a big increase.
In Ogle County, which has yet to approve an ordinance, officials on both sides of the issue agree that noise standards should dictate the setback distance.
The Ogle County Farm Bureau has maintained that setbacks are a property rights issue. It opposed earlier proposals calling for a half-mile setback.
Ogle County Board member Bill Welty has pushed for restrictions on wind farms.
Both Welty and the Ogle County Farm Bureau agree that noise is the crucial issue.
Ogle County’s Baileyville wind farm, which could start going up as early as spring, has a setback distance of 1,640 feet. The company says that at that distance, it could meet noise standards under a special-use permit, Welty said.
Welty said he accepts that setback. If it turns out that turbines are too noisy for that distance, the company would have to shut them down, so the company has an incentive to tell the truth about the noise effects, he said.
Brian Duncan, president of the Ogle County Farm Bureau, said sound is the overriding issue.
“Sound varies based on topography, trees, other features,” Duncan said.
He discounted another major complaint about turbines – that they’re unsightly.
“If someone says they don’t want to look at these turbines – which I think is at the root of the issue – the view you enjoy is someone else’s property,” Duncan said.
Mike Pratt, a member of the Lee County Zoning Board, has acknowledged that he has consulted with the Ogle County Farm Bureau, among others, before he presents proposals for the wind energy ordinance.
While the Ogle County Farm Bureau has been vocal, its Lee County counterpart has been much quieter. Danelle DeSmith, manager of the Lee County Farm Bureau, said her group supports the Illinois Farm Bureau policy, but has a neutral position on the construction of turbines locally.
The state Farm Bureau pushes for statewide rules for wind farms to protect public health and safety and private property rights. It also calls for allowing reasonable development of wind energy.
The Ogle County Board is expected to vote in February on a final version of a wind energy ordinance.
“We have a program that protects Ogle County residents but allows developers to develop and farmers to lease land [for wind farms],” Welty said.
As for the Lee County Zoning Board, Welty questioned whether it has its priorities straight.
“I’m not sure the Zoning Board of Appeals is listening to their residents,” he said. “They’re putting too much emphasis on listening to the developer and not the taxpayer.”
Once the Lee County Zoning Board completes its review, it’ll send recommended changes to the full County Board, which has the final say.
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