DEER GROVE – The debate over wind farms usually is about setbacks between homes and turbines.
But near Deer Grove, wildlife issues have been the focus.
“Wildlife is more central to this debate than any other wind farm before,” said Keith Shank of the Department of Natural Resources’ Impact Assessment Section.
Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power wants to build nine turbines in far southeastern Whiteside County, part of a three-county project.
Near the planned turbines in Whiteside County are the Sand Prairie State Habitat Area and the Foley Sand Prairie Nature Preserve.
The state is concerned about the turbines’ effects on those natural areas. The main wildlife concern for wind farms usually is bats and birds, but they are a secondary consideration for the Mainstream project, Shank said.
“This would be a major wind farm in a different ecological setting than before,” he said. “Much of the territory is sand prairie or former sand prairie.”
That is land that Greg Wahl wants to protect. Wahl, the CEO of Wahl Clipper Corp. in Sterling, owns 143 acres in the footprint of Mainstream’s proposed project – 22 acres of which he calls undisturbed prairie.
Over the past couple of months, the Whiteside County Planning and Zoning Commission has had public hearings for Mainstream’s proposal. Wahl’s objections have been the focus of three of the past five hearings.
He has testified the turbines would affect threatened species, including the ornate box turtle and the plains hognose snake.
In a recent report, Shank said the DNR’s biological opinion was that turbines likely would adversely change the habitat of the turtle, the snake and the regal fritillary butterfly.
“We’re blazing new territory here, to some degree,” he said.
In a May 23 letter, Mainstream said it would seek what are known as incidental take authorizations for those species.
To get such an authorization, a company provides a conservation plan to mitigate harm to protected species – a process that involves giving notice to the public.
Such permits have their pros and cons, Shank said.
“If you don’t take an incidental take authorization and there is a loss, then you could have criminal liability,” he said. “But if you get the authorization, you have to do what you say you will do. You’re committing real dollars. The plus is that if the worst happens, you’re held harmless. It’s kind of an insurance policy.”
Shank suggested the company conduct a study of shadow flicker to determine impacts to the state habitat area.
Mainstream disagreed, saying it would be difficult, if not impossible, to have a meaningful study that would provide a basis for curtailing turbines’ operations.
The company said in the letter that it would agree to the state’s recommendations for other kinds of pre- and post-construction studies on turbines’ impact on wildlife.
Mainstream doesn’t have to follow the state’s recommendations; the Whiteside County Board has jurisdiction.
“We feel there is adequate science to support the recommendations,” Shank said. “Reasonable people can disagree.”
John Martin, the project manager, said incidental take authorizations for wind farms are not without precedent.
“We’re excited to continue working with the IDNR and the county,” he said.
Mainstream also plans 60 turbines in Lee County and 19 in Bureau County.
Shank is working on his recommendations for the Lee County turbines. He said they would be similar to those in Whiteside County.
Lee County’s hearings are tentatively slated to start July 5.
The next Whiteside County hearing is June 20.
The Whiteside County Planning and Zoning Commission meets at 7 p.m. June 20 at the Rock Falls Community Building, 601 W. 10th St. Meetings last 2 1/2 hours.
The commission will continue its hearing on Mainstream Renewable Power’s proposed wind farm.
Call Whiteside County’s zoning office at 815-772-5175 for more information.
URL to article: https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2012/06/09/whiteside-wind-farm-talk-blazing-new-ground/