BELVIDERE – Boone County leaders will soon face one of the most significant economic decisions in decades: whether to clear the way for construction of as many as 100 turbines on 12,000 northern acres.
The wind farm, proposed by international wind developer Mainstream Renewable Power, would cost $300 million to $400 million to build. It would potentially create hundreds of construction jobs and high-paying permanent positions for skilled workers, while generating $1 million to $2 million a year in property tax revenue for the county.
The project faces an important hurdle Tuesday night: More than 100 residents are expected at a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to make the case against the project, citing health and environmental risks and economic impact.
County Board members and staff planners have debated for months whether to tighten a wind-energy ordinance. The changes would substantially restrict placement of what would be the county’s first wind structures or, worse yet, cause the company to withdraw from the project.
“It’s a death by 1,000 cuts,” project manager John Martin said.
The farm would generate up to 200 megawatts of power with about 100 turbines.
In addition to jobs directly tied to the farm, “there’s a ripple effect to other parts of local economies, like hotels and restaurants,” Martin said. “Communities like this like to see their best and brightest stick around, and this would give them a reason to do so.”
Proponents of wind energy say County Board members are trying to hasten the decision-making process so they can deliver the final blow at the final meeting of their term to zone out turbines.
The process of amending the ordinance began months ago when the Planning, Zoning and Building Committee recommended doubling to 2,000 feet the distance between “primary” structures and wind devices; expanding the list of primary structures; and creating a fund to cover the cost of eventually taking the wind turbines out of service once their parts fail.
Planners with Boone County and the city of Belvidere have opposed tighter restrictions on wind farms, as has the Boone County Regional Planning Commission. Now the ZBA must listen to dozens of people offer testimony before making a recommendation to the County Board.
LeRoy Township resident John Mulholland supports wind energy because he would earn more money for allowing a turbine to operate on his land than by farming it.
The turbines are not aesthetically pleasing, he said, but they are no different than cell towers or electrical power lines. “I’d rather have a windmill in my backyard than oil coming from Saudi Arabia.”
However, more than 300 members of Concerned Citizens of Boone County, a nonprofit geared toward wind farm education, say the ordinance does not protect homes or animals from ground current, with some complaining of sleep deprivation, high blood pressure and nausea.
“There are many people who have two mortgages because they have had to vacate their houses. We don’t want that here,” said Brian Van Laar, the group’s president.
If you go
What: Boone County Zoning Board of Appeals meeting
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Belvidere City Council Chambers, 401 Whitney Blvd.
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