POPLAR GROVE – A drive along Illinois 76 is an excursion along vast tracts of rural acreage where at least one developer envisions wind turbines climbing hundreds of feet toward the skies.
Some farmers don’t necessarily like the equipment that, on sunny days, they fear will cast flickering shadows in their homes and wreck their view of pastoral landscapes.
They blame the wind farms for threatening wildlife, devaluing property and dividing their community. But the wind farms still have their supporters who are pulling for their development in Manchester and LeRoy townships.
This tug-of-war is stirring Boone County’s political community during this primary election season, and the topic of go-green wind energy is expected to encroach upon politics more in the years to come.
“They’re tall structures,” said Vince Green, development project manager for Mainstream Renewable Power, a business that intends to file an application for a wind farm project in the next few years. “We can’t hide them.”
Boone County’s wind farm debates have been blowing off and on for several years. Mainstream’s tentative proposal to build as many as 100 turbines on 12,000 acres in Boone County’s northernmost townships galvanized talks, along with the county board’s January 6-6 wind energy vote.
The split vote kept in place the 1,000-foot setbacks from primary structures, like homes. A non-split vote could have significantly limited where wind turbines can be placed.
Green is OK with politicians partaking in the community debates. The way he sees it, politicians speaking on the record about wind energy is good for their constituents.
There are 11 candidates vying for board seats on the March 18 Boone County Republican Primary ballot. Incumbent candidates include Ronald Wait, Marion Thornberry and Kenneth Freeman, who voted for the status quo, and Karl Johnson and Chris Berner, who voted to further limit where wind farms could go.
Johnson expects Boone County residents will continue debating wind farms for years to come.
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” he said.
He estimated seven out of every 10 residents that he talks with brings up the environmental subject in some way or another.
From his perspective, wind farms are “a huge issue” for the following reasons: people are concerned about property rights and whether their capacities to enjoy their property will be diminished.
Boone County resident Meredith Williams said she and her husband have taken interest in the Boone County wind farm proposals as farmers and conservationists.
“So, we read the (proposed) contract, went on the sponsored tour, visited other farms, discussed the matter with our children, our banker, and our lawyer, and prayed a great deal,” she said in an email. “Ultimately, we decided that it wasn’t the right fit for our family; that we, and our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, had not worked so hard to keep this farm through droughts, floods, depressions, and wars over the course of 165 years only to turn over huge amounts of it to a foreign company.
“It is now with overwhelming trepidation that I consider the possibility of the wind development in Boone County. The wind farm issue should absolutely be a part of the upcoming debates.“
County Board Chairman Bob Walberg is a farmer who, in the divided 6-6 vote, was in favor of more restrictions for wind farms.
He hears where some factions are coming from: The farmers who resist a changing landscape and those who see wind energy as a viable resource.
“If they weren’t so big and so massive and overpowering, people wouldn’t be so opposed to them,” he said, predicting that the debates will spark again once Mainstream submits its application.
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