DIXON – This week, Lee County Zoning Administrator Chris Henkel read aloud proposed noise regulations for wind farms.
He did so at a meeting of the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
Board members had a copy beforehand. No one else did – except for representatives of a wind energy company that wants to put up turbines in Lee, Whiteside and Bureau counties.
Some people are getting suspicious that Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power is getting much greater access to the rule-making process than anyone else.
For 6 months, the Zoning Board has been drafting new rules for wind farms.
For much of that time, the panel has based its changes on a proposed wind energy ordinance in neighboring Ogle County. Members have made small changes to the Ogle County proposal in many cases.
But in more recent meetings, the board seems to be deviating from that procedure.
In fact, the noise portion of the ordinance isn’t the only process in which Mainstream appeared to have had a big influence.
The company, after all, has a lot at stake.
On Dec. 15, the Zoning Board approved rules for decommissioning turbines. Residents say they want such regulations to ensure that turbines are taken down after they’re abandoned, rather than remaining as rusting albatrosses.
Three hours before the Dec. 15 meeting, John Martin of Mainstream forwarded a copy of his proposal for decommissioning rules to Franklin Grove Village President Bob Logan, who attends Zoning Board meetings.
At the meeting, the board approved the proposal word for word. Logan said during the session that the wind industry drafted the rules. No one responded.
Mainstream tries to includes others’ ideas
In an interview this week, Martin confirmed that he forwarded the proposal to Logan. He said it was based on a draft by a representative of another wind energy company who used to attend meetings.
Martin said his company edited it, took into account some of the input during Zoning Board meetings, and submitted a final draft to Chris Henkel, the county’s zoning administrator.
“Bob Logan sent me a version,” Martin said. “I tried to incorporate some of his ideas. He didn’t have a chance to review it in-depth before it was adopted. That’s up to the board.”
Under the proposal, any wind turbine that hasn’t been in operation for a year or 425 days in consecutive calendar years is considered abandoned. In such cases, the Zoning Board would recommend whether to revoke the special-use permits for inoperable turbines. The County Board has the final say.
The rules require financial security from the wind energy company. Over the first 15 years of operation, the company is to pay the estimated amount of decommissioning.
Before every fifth year of operation, the owner would provide an updated decommissioning cost.
To calculate the estimated cost, the owner can subtract the salvage value of the equipment and materials.
During Zoning Board meetings, Logan argued strongly against subtracting the salvage value.
He has released an email from a Rockford company that said it would cost an estimated $700,000 to disassemble and truck the equipment of a turbine to a scrap yard.
Logan said that cost likely would be much more than a turbine’s salvage value.
He said he wished he could have presented the email to the Zoning Board, but the panel voted on the issue soon after Henkel read out loud the draft that appeared to have come from Mainstream.
‘We aren’t privy to early information’
At this week’s meeting, attorney Rick Porter, who represents a Lee County landowner, said it seemed as if Mainstream representatives were the only ones with a copy of the proposed noise regulations.
Asked directly about that, John Martin of Mainstream acknowledged that he had received a copy of the proposal just before the meeting from Henkel, the zoning official.
Martin said his company provided language for the proposal and that emails bounced around between him and Henkel and Zoning Board member Mike Pratt.
“As a responsible developer, we’re willing to compromise on a variety of topics,” Martin said. “Our efforts are appropriate.”
Pratt said he compiled the proposal with input from a number of sources, including Logan.
Near the end of this week’s meeting, Logan said it was apparent that representatives of Mainstream carried more weight with the Zoning Board than residents from all over the county who have attended the meetings.
“What we say falls on deaf ears. We aren’t privy to early information,” he said.
The County Board has the final say on the Zoning Board’s proposed ordinance, including the decommissioning and noise rules.
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