December 7, 2012

County zoning board endorses revised wind farm regulations

Written by Bob Balgemann | Belvidere Daily Republican |

BELVIDERE – Another step has been taken in the process of adopting revised wind farm regulations.

The Boone County Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3-1 with one absent Nov. 28 to recommend approval of the text amendments to the zoning code dealing with such issues as setbacks, decommissioning, roads, fees and property rights.

Paramount among the discussion items over the course of the deliberations, which lasted two nights, were setbacks and decommissioning.

The ZBA-recommended setback for wind turbines is 1,500 feet from the property line, with a possible waiver to 1,200 feet.

That was the amendment proposed by board member Dana Pelan, and approved, during the Nov. 27 meeting. He was unable to be at the Nov. 28 meeting and therefore did not vote on the overall recommendation.

Board members spent the most time Nov. 28 discussing the best way to be sure the developer pays the full amount for removing towers once they have outlived their usefulness. Projects usually last 20 years or more.

The planning, zoning and building committee, a standing committee of the county board, initially recommended that 100 percent of the cost be put in escrow before any building permits are issues.

Zoning board members agreed with that position Nov. 27.

But on Nov. 28 board member Darrel Davis, who wasn’t at the Nov. 27 meeting, came up with a new proposal.

He suggested that financial assurances be made by the developer at varying stages of the life of the wind farm. That assurance would be 15 percent of the total cost during first year; another 15 percent in the fourth year; 20 percent in the seventh year; 25 percent in the 10th year and 25 percent in the 13th year.

About halfway through the life of the project, he said 100 percent of the cost to remove the entire wind farm would have been assured.

To require a developer to have all of the removal money in the bank before the project even begins would keep such a project from happening, Davis said.

Differing cost figures

Board Chairman Norm Stimes said a contractor estimated it would cost $550,000 to remove one tower.

But Davis said he had seen estimates of $45,000-$50,000 to take down one turbine. “The amount isn’t relevant,” he said. “A certified Illinois engineer will tell us what the cost will be.”

His position wasn’t supported by board members Mark Rhode and Joan Krumm.

“I still think we have to be protective of our residents,” Rhode said of ensuring that neither the county nor landowners wind up paying for removal of any towers. “I’m scared to death that in 6-to-10 years they’ll (developer) walk away.”

Stimes agreed requiring all the removal money up-front would be a strain on the developer. Yet, he said, “That’s the cost of doing business.”

“It’s common sense,” Davis said of spreading out the financial assurances.

“I don’t see how you can say that,” Krumm countered.

Davis’ motion to amend the section on decommissioning costs failed, 3-1, with Krumm, Rhode and Stimes dissenting.

The motion to recommend accepting the revised wind farm regulations passed, 3-1, with Davis voting no.

The existing setback is 1,000 feet with no possibility of a waiver. The recommended setback is 1,500 feet with the possibility of a waiver to 1,200 feet. That differs from the PZB recommendation of 2,000 feet with a 1,400-foot waiver.

Next stop for the text amendments was the PZB committee, which met on Wednesday (Dec. 5) in the county administration building, 1212 Logan Ave., Belvidere.

New committee makeup

This will be a newly-constituted committee, appointed by whoever was elected chairman and vice chairman of the county board at its reorganization meeting Monday night. Three of the five members – Terri Glass, Laura Guerin-Hunt and Marshall Newhouse – no longer are on the panel. Holdover members are Brad Fidder and Kenny Freeman and they may, or may not, be reappointed.

The PZB recommendation will move on to the new county board, likely at its Dec. 19 meeting.

Numerous residents, some of them affiliated with the Concerned Citizens of Boone County, offered their thoughts during six hours of testimony spread over two nights in October. While they may be allowed to speak during the upcoming PZB and county board meetings, that is not guaranteed.

For the moment one of the speakers, Brian Van Laar, said, “We’re just watching. It’s been a real education for us, seeing it move through the process.”

He said those who raised concerns about wind energy were not necessarily opposed to the project being proposed for Boone County. He said they wanted to be sure that residents’ health, safety and welfare were being protected.

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