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Debate over state wind farm siting bill continues

A week after a state Senate bill that would take siting and regulation of commercial wind farms away from county governments was introduced, area leaders echoed Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) to buck the measure.

According to Christiansen, regulating wind turbines is a local issue and should not fall under jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which is where state Sen. John Sullivan, R-Quincy, wants to place it under Senate Bill 3236.

Sullivan claims by taking authority away from county governments, small counties would have better resources to deal with large wind farm proposals. The state would take over permits and siting. Local governments would be permitted to hold public meetings about each proposed wind farm. However, decisions whether to approve turbines based on those meetings would be made by state officials.

If Sullivan’s bill becomes law, it will delete all existing county ordinances, and may delete important language that protects area infrastructure.

“It would take money from locals,” McDonough County Engineer Tom Hickman told mcdonoughvoice.com. “They could come in and destroy the roads; there wouldn’t be any contractual agreement with turbine operators. There’s wind farms all over the state. They (now) have an agreement with these wind farm companies to, No. 1, determine which roads are going to be used and to replace them to the condition they were prior to construction.”

Sullivan said the bill is not meant to restrict county governments, and he says he is aware of the impact it could have on roads and other parts of the landscape.

“I think (wind farms) bring a lot of good, as far as renewable energy,” Sullivan told the website. “That needs to be a part of our portfolio. My intent was not to limit.”

Other opponents of the bill want to keep the power on the county level to ensure the safety of local ecosystems. Bats, eagles and other migratory birds are often killed by improperly sited wind farms.

Although an exact number of birds killed by wind turbines each year isn’t known, estimates range from 10,000 to 500,000. In 2012, approximately 900,000 bats were reportedly killed by turbines in the United States.

In November 2013, Duke Energy Corp., of Charlotte, N.C., was fined $1 million for killing 14 eagles and 149 other migratory birds. In a plea agreement, Duke admitted it constructed two Wyoming wind farms in a manner that would result in bird deaths.

Editor and publisher of this newspaper, Frank Schier, has testified against corporate wind interests being established in Winnebago, Ogle and Boone counties.

Schier said regulation is too complex to transfer to the state. Doing so, he said, opens the door for environmental hazards fueled by political power plays.

Schier said: “Legislation belongs on the local level with people most affected by it. This bill takes our county rights to object to and regulate wind farms away and puts it into the hands of bureaucrats who can be bought by big wind. As we’ve seen with Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), particularly with the IEPA, this presents poor regulation, a further threat to our environment and it steals our rights. It’s a poor bill, and the senator should withdraw it.”

Lee County District 1 Board Chairman Rick Ketchum supports the measure, as long as counties would continue collecting permit revenue and the state does its part to appropriate deconstruction funds.

“If there are clauses that require escrows for deconstruction, and we are still able to collect our zoning and permit fees, I don’t see a problem with it,” Ketchum said.

Under the bill, the Wind Energy Facilities Construction and Deconstruction Act, commercial wind farms on leased land must enter into agricultural impact mitigation agreements with the state. The bill also requires wind farmers to file a deconstruction plan and set aside funds to dismantle each farm when it’s decommissioned.

Currently, there are wind farms in 15 Illinois counties, including DeKalb, Lee and Stephenson. Projects in Boone, Ogle and Winnebago counties have also been proposed.

Village of Lee President Richard Boris echoed Schier, saying the bill is equally as bad for the economy.

“It would be a travesty,” Boris said. “It’s bad for economic develoopment for both municipalities and counties.”

From the March 26-April 1, 2014, issue