September 30, 2012

Deciding new wind farm rules may take two more meetings

Written by Bob Balgemann | Belvidere Daily Republican | September 30, 2012 |

BELVIDERE – A sometimes emotional public hearing on revised wind farm regulations lasted almost 3 ½ hours Sept. 25 and didn’t come close to being concluded.

Members of the Boone County Zoning Board of Appeals voted to adjourn the meeting to 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Belvidere City Hall, 311 Whitney Blvd, downtown.

And since the board wasn’t confident a second hearing would do it, the planning staff already is looking to the possibility of a special meeting on Oct. 30.

A standing-room only crowd packed the county board meeting room for the first hearing, a majority of them anti-wind farm, applauding comments that favored their position and once booing when they didn’t like something.

Board Chairman Norm Stimes laid out some ground rules right off the bat. Speakers would receive five minutes with the possibility of being granted another five minutes if approved by the board. There were to be no personal attacks on one another, he said.

Assistant Planner Gina DelRose began the testimony by outlining the staff recommendations for changes in the ordinance that governs wind farms.

The recommendation eliciting the most interest was that the current 1,000-foot setback from a primary structure remain in place. But she said if the board wanted to alter that she would suggest going to 1,200 feet, no more than 1,500 feet.

Most of those in the audience wanted 2,000 feet. That also was recommended by the planning, zoning and building committee of the county board, with a possible waive to 1,200 feet. But staff didn’t agree.

“This pits neighbor against neighbor and we don’t think that’s fair,” DelRose said of the the 2,000-foot setback. She added that was a considerably longer distance than required by 33 other Illinois counties.

She said staff preferred language be vague, as is the case with most other counties, with specifics worked out during the special use process.

After her 45-minute presentation Chairman Stimes opened the hearing to questions from the floor and that consumed 54 minutes. The first speaker was admonished twice by State’s Attorney Michelle Courier to ask questions, not offer comments against the staff-recommended setback.

Protection for residents?

Resident Brian Van Laar asked DelRose if staff thought a 1,400 or 1,500-foot setback protected the health, safety and welfare of residents?

“I have nothing to show me otherwise,” she replied.

Another resident asked what height staff’s setback recommendation was based on?

“This is not for a specific project,” the planner answered. “It’s for anything imaginable.”

Still another asked why staff felt the setback should remain at the 1,000 feet established in 2005?

“We didn’t think the (zoning) code needed to be changed after talking with other counties,” DelRose responded. Beyond that, she repeated that details of any project should be spelled out during the special use process. “Right now all of this is hypothetical,” she said.

The planner was asked what evidence staff used to arrive at continuing the 1,000-foot setback?

“We consulted with people who have experience,” she answered. “You’re wanting a specific answer out of me and you’re not going to get that, I’m sorry. We looked at information in counties with towers in the ground.”

Power-point presentations

There were three power point presentations in support of revised regulations.

They came from Laura Guerin-Hunt, a member of the planning, zoning and building committee that proposed the revised rules, Julie Newhouse, wife of committee Chairman Marshall Newhouse, and Marshall Newhouse himself. Their topics were setbacks and decommissioning of turbines.

Hunt said she did not agree with the staff recommendation of 1,000 feet, adding, “It’s imperative to provide non-participants with the same protections afforded others in special use petitions.”

She talked about the need for an adequate setback from underground pipelines, and received applause when she specified it should be 1,600 feet.

A handful of boos then were directed at board Vice Chairman Darrel Davis, when he said some of the information in Hunt’s presentation was hearsay.

“We don’t need this,” Davis said of the power point.

“We do,” some in the audience shouted back.

Marshall Newhouse didn’t agree with the staff recommendation, either, saying he believed a decommissioning plan was necessary to protect the county. Money for removal of turbines once they have outlived their usefulness should be placed in escrow.

Turbine removal costly

Removing a turbine would be expensive, he said, referring to the $70,000 cost of a crane, $50,000 to set it up and $60,000 to remove the road once the relocation was completed. “The bill is now $180,000,” he said.

He added it was the county’s responsibility to protect its residents and that it could require those fees.

Mainstream Renewable Power is proposing the 8,000-acre wind farm in northeastern Boone County, and is expected to apply for a special use permit in early-to-mid-2013. Its senior project manager, John Martin, asked Newhouse about requiring financial security as time goes by, not up-front.

“No,” Newhouse answered. He said he imagined there would be several owners over the life of the wind farm and that he wanted money in escrow to protect the county “before a (construction) permit is issued.”

Martin asked him if he was aware that sometimes a wind farm isn’t built until two years after receiving approval?

“That is not my concern,” came the reply. “Escrow is the vehicle that offers the best financial protection for the county. I feel strongly about protecting the landowners and Boone County.”

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