May 24, 2012

Panel endorses 2,000-foot setback for wind turbines, with waiver

Written by Bob Balgemann | Belvidere Daily Republican | 24 May 2012

BELVIDERE – The first step toward revising regulations for wind farms has been taken by the Boone County Planning, Zoning and Building Committee.

Members voted 3-2 May 14 to recommend a 2,000-foot setback for wind turbines, with the option for a waiver to reduce that distance to 1,200 feet. Chairman Marshall Newhouse and members Laura Guerin-Hunt and Brad Fidder supported the motion; members Terri Glass and Kenny Freeman opposed it.

Newhouse put that amendment on the table in an effort to protect non-participating property owners, while giving interested landowners an opportunity to have a turbine on their property.

The setback would be from the base of the turbine to the primary structure on the parcel.

“This is not an undoable number,” Newhouse said of the 2,000 feet, adding he knew of areas in northeastern Boone County where it would work. Mainstream Renewable Power is proposing an 8,000-acre wind farm in northeastern Boone, with upwards of 100 turbines standing about 490 feet tall.

Project Manager John Martin has said an application for a special use permit likely would be submitted later this year.

The committee at that meeting also approved recommendations to protect roads while the turbines are being hauled in, removal of the turbines when they no longer are being used, fees and property rights.

Boone County’s initial setback, created about six years ago, was 1,000 feet. Hunt, who chose that topic to explore, said most of the counties she checked had a 1,400-foot setback.

“No one said why” they chose the particular distance, she said. “I chose 1,400 feet based on what most counties chose. I have no reason other than that.”

She said later her primary focus was on safety, well-being and the nuisance factor.

Newhouse said he suggested the 2,000-foot setback because turbines in use today are much taller than they were six years ago, when Boone County rejected a proposal for a wind farm with 330-foot-tall turbines.

He said he consulted with State’s Attorney Michelle Courier, who suggested he “pick a setback for the entire county with a waiver possible for those who want to participate.” He added that Courier would go over all of the committee’s suggested regulations, once they were finalized and put into draft form by county staff.

Glass opposed the 2,000-foot setback, saying it had been rejected six years ago because it was too restrictive. “No property in Boone County would have been able to have a turbine,” she said. “I don’t want to go down that road again.”

Hunt’s attempt to amend Newhouse’s amendment with a 1,600-foot setback, including the suggested waiver, failed, 4-1.

Also in the proposed regulations no wind farm may be located within 1 ½ miles of any municipality’s zoning jurisdiction, unless the applicant has submitted a letter stating there are no objections.

There are specified setbacks from public roads, communication towers, third-party transmission lines, wellheads, gas pipelines and natural gas storage.

Committee members agreed to discuss proximity to airports and landing strips at a later.

In addition, shadow flicker may not appear on the primary structure of a non-participant for more than 10 hours a year. Prior to approval of the wind farm, the applicant must present a study to the zoning board of appeals showing the average number of hours shadow flicker may appear on the primary structure.

Decommissioning turbines

There will come a time when the wind turbines are removed and Newhouse, who chose that topic to research, said he wanted to be sure the county didn’t shoulder any of that expense.

His recommendation, which ultimately was adopted by the committee, stated the developer should be required to put money in escrow for the removal process. He said he preferred that instead of a letter of credit or bonds.

It’s estimated now that it takes $575,000 to remove a turbine, with a scrap value of $95,000. But putting in a suggested escrow amount now “would be an exercise in futility because there is no proposal.”

One of the major unknowns is who will own the turbines at the end of their lifespan? It won’t be Mainstream, he said, because it is a developer, not a project operator, and plans to sell the wind farm, should it be approved and once it’s completed.

Committee member Hunt said she didn’t know if it was the county’s responsibility to protect the landowner with a turbine on his property, or “if it’s let the buyer beware. I know we are responsible for the taxpayers of Boone County.”

Terrinoni suggested the state’s attorney or an expert in that area become involved with that question.

“My attorney said money in hand is pretty solid,” Newhouse noted. “I don’t want the board to be bushwhacked.”

In his recommended verbiage he said, “A lot of authority is placed on the county engineer (Rich Lundin) and the county administrator.”

His recommendations were approved in a 4-0 vote.

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