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Technical change to setback; Taller turbines would require longer distance

DIXON – A Lee County committee is recommending the county keep the current required distance between homes and wind turbines.

For those turbines taller than 400 feet, though, the setback distance would be greater, based on a formula.

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals addressed the contentious issue in a rare Friday night meeting.

Most of the turbines in Lee County are lower than 400 feet, although the new ones near Compton are about that height.

Under the board’s proposal, turbines must be 1,400 feet away from homes or 3.5 times the height of the turbine, whichever distance is greater. The panel initially considered a proposal that included a setback of 3.2 times the height of the turbine, but board member MIke Pratt wanted that raised to 3.5.

However, representatives of Mainstream Renewable Power, a wind energy company, argued the 3.5 number would make a big difference.

“It would discourage wind companies from coming to Lee County,” Mainstream’s John Martin said.

Mainstream, an Ireland-based company, is planning a wind farm for Lee, Whiteside and Bureau counties. One landowner who plans to participate in Mainstream’s project said increasing the number to 3.5 would impact the company’s plans for his land.

Mainstream, which has yet to submit an application to the county, said it has yet to determine the height of its turbines.

Zoning Board member Tom Fassler has called for an increased setback distance.

But Chairman Ron Conderman noted the county had the first wind farm in Illinois and started with 1,400 feet years ago. He said other counties, including Whiteside, have followed suit.

“It’s working well in Lee County and everywhere else,” he said.

Fassler disagreed.

“I don’t think 1,400 feet is working with bigger [turbines]. That’s way too close,” he said.

Franklin Grove Village President Bob Logan and others argued the county had no evidence that 1,400 feet protects the health and safety of nearby residents – noise and shadow flicker being among their concerns.

He said the 1,400-foot number came from Florida Power & Light when it presented the county’s first wind farm proposal years ago.

“That fit their purposes,” he said.

County Zoning Administrator Chris Henkel confirmed the county got the number from Florida Power.

The Zoning Board voted 3-2 for requiring setbacks be 1,400 feet or 3.5 times the height of the turbine, whichever is greater. Fassler, Pratt and Craig Buhrow voted for the proposal, while Conderman and Gene Bothe opposed it.

While the setback issue was considered the most contentious, fewer people than usual attended the meeting. That was probably because of a snowstorm and the moving of the meeting day from Thursday to Friday.

About 45 attended, while nearly 80 showed up 2 weeks ago. Many attendees called county officials throughout the day to make sure the board meeting was still happening.

Although Mainstream suffered a setback at Friday’s meeting, its representatives had good words to say about the board before the decision.

“You should be applauded, very much so,” Martin told the members. “What you have passed is very protective of the county.”

The board is expected to meet again Feb. 23 and put the finishing touches on its recommended wind energy regulations. Then the County Board, which has the final say, would probably get its first official look at the proposed regulations at its March meeting. Then it could vote on it the following month.

To attend

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 in the County Board meeting room on the third floor of the Old County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St., in Dixon.

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