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County board to debate new wind turbine proposal

Sangamon County Board has scheduled a special meeting Monday to look at changes to county wind turbine rules that would increase the minimum distance between a turbine and a house.

The board imposed a moratorium on wind turbines in January so it could revamp its zoning rules. The turbines use wind energy to generate electricity.

The county now requires a large wind turbine to be at least 1,000 feet or three times the diameter of the rotors, whichever is greater, from a house. The setback from the property line must be at least 1,200 feet.

While no wind farm proposals are before the county board, Springfield Project Development, a joint development between American Wind Energy Management and Oak Creek Energy Systems, is planning a wind farm in western Sangamon County.

On Thursday, members of the board’s Public Health, Safety and Zoning Committee went over a series of proposals to change the distance between wind turbines and property lines, as well as the distance between turbines and homes.

The committee settled on an option put forward by board member Dave Mendenhal of Buffalo that would increase the minimum distance between wind turbines and houses, but decrease the setback from property lines.

The perimeter setback would be 1.5 times the system height under Mendenhall’s proposal. Since most new wind turbines are about 500 feet tall, this would equate to 750 feet.

The distance between a house and a wind turbine would be 1,800 feet or three times the system height, whichever is greater.

Mendenhall, who put the proposal together with input from Springfield Project Development, said it allows property owners to participate in a wind farm if they want to, and it also addresses some of the concerns opponents expressed.

The committee looked at other proposals that would have increased the property line setback to 1,850 feet and 2,640 feet for wind turbines 400 feet or less in height, and more for taller turbines. However, Chris Nickell, vice president of site establishment for Springfield Project Development, said the project could not move forward if those proposals were approved.

He characterized Mendenhall’s proposal as an “interesting compromise.”

“Anyone who has a home is protected in a much greater fashion,” he said. “If you just have a cornfield and decide not to participate, we will still stay one-and-a-half times the turbine height from your land.”

Springfield Project Development could begin the first phase in the next 18 months. The first phase could involve about 15 turbines.

Springfield Project Development has determined it will need turbines that are close to 500 feet tall.

“What the wind data tells us is we need to have the turbines higher to create an economically viable project,” Nickell said.

Monday’s board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the county board chamber, which is on the second floor of the Sangamon County Building at Ninth and Monroe streets.