BELVIDERE – Boone County leaders narrowly shot down a proposed amendment to a zoning ordinance that would have significantly limited where wind turbines can be placed.
Board members rejected the idea Wednesday, with about 150 people in the audience, of increasing the minimum setback distance equal to three times a tower’s height from property lines.
The code will remain unchanged, calling for 1,000-foot setbacks from primary structures, like homes.
The decision was tied to Mainstream Renewable Power’s interest in building a $300 million-to-$400 million wind farm with as many as 100 turbines on 12,000 acres in Manchester and LeRoy townships.
The Ireland-based company has solar and wind projects in Europe, South American, Africa and Canada. It has other projects under development in California and in Lee, Bureau and Whiteside counties.
Company officials said the Boone project could generate up to $2 million a year in property tax revenue for the county. Others, in what was at times a heated discussion, voiced concerns about health, safety and welfare from the potential project.
Those issues have led to more than a year’s worth of discussion on setbacks, causing residents and businesses to invest thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours and a significant amount of energy.
“It’s a no-win situation for us as a board. I don’t know if there is a way to make everyone in this room happy,” member Karl Johnson said.
Wednesday’s vote likely is not the last word: The board was one vote shy of amending the code.
The 6-6 vote had Brad Fidder, Denny Ellingson, Bob Walberg, Johnson, Paul Larson and Chris Berner voting to increase the distance and Bill Pysson, Cathy Ward, Ron Wait, Marion Thornberry, Kenny Freeman and Craig Schultz voting to keep it the same.
Boone County State’s Attorney Michelle Courier said state statute requires the majority of those elected to the board must approve the measure for it to pass, which means seven votes were needed to change the ordinance.
The board’s split decision will be tested if Mainstream Renewable Power files a project application. The company’s intentions and the project’s potential effects will be scrutinized again through the special-use permit process.
Meanwhile, Walberg said, the board will remain divided over the issue.
“This won’t end tonight. (When) the company comes and files an application there will still be the same concerns addressed.”