BELVIDERE – Boone County Board members may have voted to keep the county’s zoning ordinance on wind energy setbacks the same Wednesday night, but that doesn’t mean it will be any easier for companies to get a project approved there.
Members split the vote 6-6 on increasing the minimum distance that wind turbines must be located from property lines. The proposal failed by a single vote, since state statute requires a majority vote from those elected to the board for it to pass. Applicants interested in obtaining a special use permit to build a specific project must have the approval of the majority of members present for the measure to pass. If the vote is split evenly again, development will not happen.
“Obviously, we recognize that things have to change,” said Vince Green, development project manager for Mainstream Renewable Power, a business that intends to file an application for a project in the future.
The Ireland-based company plans to build a $300 million to $400 million wind farm with as many as 100 turbines on 12,000 acres in Manchester and LeRoy townships. The business has other projects under development in Lee, Bureau and Whiteside counties.
Green said he did not know when an application for a Boone County project would be filed because the company is still gathering information needed for the paperwork. However, he said the board’s narrow defeat of the more-restrictive zoning ordinance Wednesday gives company leaders comfort in investing more dollars into the project.
He said the community can look at each specific project application on its own merits, rather than making broad statements for or against wind energy development in general. That itself could break a tie vote.
“In theory we shouldn’t be hearing about turbine pipeline spills somewhere else in the country. Issues will be very specific to what we’re proposing,” Green said.
Boone County Board Chairman Bob Walberg expects months of discussion over the details of any specific project brought forward. He said it’s like starting the process, which so far has added up to more than a year’s worth of debate and discussion, all over again.
“Everybody gets pretty weathered and worn with this process because it doesn’t seem convincing to change people’s minds. The conclusion is pretty predictable,” Walberg said.
“It won’t pass the next time because of the deadlock on the board.”
Member Marion Thornberry said that’s not necessarily the case.
If a wind farm application is being discussed, leaders will have to base their votes on the specific impact of each turbine’s location.
“If we see no detrimental aspects of any of these special use permits, I see no problem with getting them passed. Then again, some of the board members who voted to pass the amendment (may) vote against the (special use permit for) individual farmers,” Thornberry said.
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