LINCOLN – The Logan County Board listened to nearly two hours of comments from the public on Thursday night at its January Workshop. The commentary focused on the proposed conditional use of land for the development of a wind farm.
As the meeting began, Vice Chairman Robert Farmer asked for a moment of silence in honor of Dean Toohey, a former ZBA member who passed away in December.
Relight and Meridian LLC have applied for a conditional use permit in order to build a series of wind towers in Logan County. Relight is a wind farm corporation with headquarters in Italy. Relight US, the subsidiary working on this project, is wholly owned by Relight.
The wind farm would be located south and west of Mount Pulaski, with towers stretching into Elkhart and Broadwell. The wind farm would consist of 81 wind turbines, collector lines, sub-stations, transmissions lines, access roads, meteorological towers and related appurtenances. In total, the project would encompass 8,100 acres across the county.
Originally, the plan called for 140 turbines. Now the plan is down to 81 turbines. The towers will be 98 meters high, or a little over 300 feet. With the blades attached, the tip of the blade would reach 491 feet high. The turbines would generate 2.85 megawatts, and would be built by General Electric.
Prior to this meeting, the application was recommended for approval by the Regional Planning Commission. A result of ‘no recommendation’ came out of the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing process.
Barbara Stroud-Borth of Mount Pulaski was the first to speak. Stroud-Borth said she is very concerned over the possible health effects of living near wind turbines. Stroud-Borth cited a resolution passed in Brown County, Wisconsin, where the board of health declared the area unsafe for inhabitants or people passing through due to the wind turbines. Several other speakers referenced this resolution during the meeting, and echoed Stroud-Borth’s concerns over health issues. Stroud-Borth also said that the Brown County wind farm is much smaller than the proposed Relight wind farm, but the people there are suffering from several negative health effects, including insomnia, chest pains, headaches, anxiety issues, and other similar effects due to infrasound.
Dave Opperman spoke on behalf of the Logan County Farm Bureau. Opperman said that the Farm Bureau is not in favor of the wind farm. “Our board of directors is unanimously opposed to the Relight Wind Project and encourage a ‘no’ vote,” said Opperman.
Robert Paladino, the vice president of Relight US, spoke on behalf of Relight. Paladino said that plans for this project began in 2009. At the same time, the county passed a resolution approving the Economic Development Master Plan. Paladino said that the Master Plan includes language on encouraging the development of Wind Farms in the county.
“It basically says that the goal of this document is to strengthen the county’s position as Illinois’ wind capital,” said Paladino. “It is the perfect place to encourage companies to come to Logan County and start their wind projects in Logan County.”
Paladino also said that the turbines would be fully compliant with all of the environmental rules and regulations set by the state and federal government. Due to a tax extension, Relight will be able to slow down their construction schedule, as they would now have until the end of 2016 to qualify for federal tax credits.
“This is a $400 million investment,” said Paladino. Relight estimates that the county could receive $2.4 million in property taxes in the first year, with 70% of that going to school districts. In addition, Paladino said that over $800,000 in total would be paid to land owners, with non-participants in the area being compensated at a rate of $5 per acre or $500 per year, whichever is higher.
Paladino also said that on the subject of property values, a number of studies have been released that show that property values are not affected by the presence of wind turbines.
Robert O’Neill, a sound engineer working with Relight on this proposed project, spoke after Paladino. O’Neill said that as part of planning this wind farm, Relight conducted a sound study. According to their results, the noise levels of the turbines would fall within state regulations for sound during the day, and at night the towers would need to be adjusted to fall within regulations.
O’Neill said the turbines would emit low levels of infrasound, but there should not be any issues due to it. O’Neill said that infrasound is always around us, and that any infrasound generated by wind turbines should not be the cause any ill effects.
O’Neill also said he has researched the Brown County health resolution. O’Neill said he questions their decision to declare the area a health hazard, as he does not see strong scientific evidence for such an action.
Robert Cowen of Mount Pulaski said he wants to see absolute proof that there will be no health problems in the area after the turbines go up. Cowen also said he is worried about the future and whether or not there would be more piles of concrete in the ground after the turbines are taken down.
Chris Cowen said he is struggling over the idea of whether or not the county needs the tax money that would come in from Relight. Cowen said that while the extra money would be good, the people living in the county should be the ones to provide the taxes, not a bank outside of the area that is holding money for a company.
Cowen also said that any buyer looking to buy his home in the future would have to take the wind farm into consideration. “If your home was next to a wind tower, would you expect to get the full amount out of that? I don’t know, I have my doubts on that,” said Cowen. Several other speakers echoed his comments, saying that property values will be negatively affected by the wind turbines.
Derek Martin of Mount Pulaski said that there were long stretches of time over the past few years where people in the area heard nothing from Relight as to the status of the project, even those who agreed to have a turbine on their land. Martin said some of the landowners in Mount Pulaski only heard about the project via notification from the ZBA. “That was the first time those residents even knew this project was going through,” said Martin.
John Stewart, a member of the Mount Pulaski School Board, spoke on his previous experience building wind towers. Stewart said he built towers in nine states over four years, including one in Emden.
Stewart said that he saw a similar conflict over wind farms in every location he worked in during those four years. Stewart said noise definitely becomes an issue in situations like this, when a wind farm is built in a residential area.
Stewart said only one person has spoken for the wind farm at the ZBA hearings. That one person was the mayor of Mount Pulaski, Jim Fuhrer. Stewart also said that the money would help the school and the county, but there would be too many negative consequences.
Bill Thomas spoke on behalf of the Economic Development Partnership. Thomas echoed earlier statements on the language on wind farms in the Master Plan. “If a change is made in our strategic plan at this time, it could prove challenging as our office moves forward to recruit other investors to our county for projects of this size,” said Thomas.
Tom Martin of Mount Pulaski questioned whether or not the Master Plan is still relevant in regarding wind farms. Martin said that every business has to be able to adapt from time to time. “Much more is known today on every issue on every economic development than what we knew when this plan was developed,” said Martin.
Terry Coppinger said that he feels these turbines will be very intimidating. “You will see these driving down 55. You will see these from Lincoln. They’re going to tower over Pulaski,” said Coppinger.
Gena Monicahl Ruhl of Mount Pulaski also addressed the health concerns that could come up in the future. Ruhl said that there are people in other areas in Illinois and in other states who have become sick after the towers are turned on, eventually forcing some of them to leave their homes. Ruhl provided copies of several studies on health effects to the board members, as well as contact information relevant to several researchers.
Ruhl quoted one of the studies as saying, “this case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about wind turbines can cause harm to humans…the debate has now evolved to one of degree.”
Ryan Mott of Mount Pulaski said that General Electric recommends a farther setback from roadways than what Logan County requires. “The manufacturer recommends a setback that is 449.95 feet further than our current county ordinance,” said Mott. Mott also said that he feels Relight should be prepared to offer landowners real property protection that would include purchase of the property should a problem arise.
Hugh Campbell, a wind technician who worked on the Railsplitter Wind Farm, spoke in favor of the project. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of people speaking for them,” said Campbell. Campbell said he looks at this from a broader view, and that new technology is going to require more access to electricity, which is why wind energy is so important. Additionally, Campbell said that Illinois has lost a lot of industries in recent years. “We have a big business looking to move in here because we have this commodity,” said Campbell.
Jim Drew of Lincoln said that this seems to be a one-sided issue, which is unusual. “Out of almost twenty years of ZBA meetings, this is the first time it’s been this one-sided,” said Drew.
Larry Cyrulik of Mount Pulaski spoke in favor of the wind farm. Cyrulik said his family owns land within the footprint of this project. “I’m gonna get money off my property because I’m within that footprint,” said Cyrulik. Cyrulik said there are likely at least eighty families that also have signed agreements with Relight. “It’s their ground that’s gonna have the concrete in the ground.”
Cyrulik also sees this as an opportunity to bring a new and clean energy industry to Logan County. “Any industry that can come in to this county, to keep our kids here, to provide tax money that you can use or that the school can use – I’m willing to go along with it,” said Cyrulik.
In addition to all of the comments from the public, a petition was given to the board members with 802 signatures against the wind farm being approved.
Jan Schumacher said that at the recent meeting of the Health Department Board, the members expressed a lack of satisfaction with what research can be done. “They felt like there was nothing firm they could hang their hat on,” said Schumacher.
The discussion ended with a straw vote, which was inconclusive. The county board is expected to vote on the conditional use permit on Wednesday the 21st.
Board members present at the meeting were David Hepler, Chuck Ruben, Gene Rohlfs, Robert Farmer, David Blankenship, Pat O’Neill, Andy Anderson, Emily Davenport, Kevin Bateman, Jan Schumacher, Rick Aylesworth and Scott Schaffenacher.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding